• Ned Manning

What State of Origin means to Melbourne

Melbourne. Rugby League. S.O.R.


State of Origin.

Shouldn’t that be S.O.O.?

A fitting acronym for an event that is littered with anomalies not the least being that is billed as a game of “football”. Or, more precisely, THE game of “football” on the rugby league calendar. Or one of three, if you count the others.

The S.O.R. caravan is rolling into the MCG on Wednesday for Game 2 of “State Against State – Mate Against Mate”.

Before we go any further I should confess to being born “North”. By that I mean across the border, in NSW. I feel it is, therefore, incumbent on me to explain the phenomenon of S.O.R. to my bemused (and appalled) friends and colleagues in Victoria.

I moved here five years ago and if anything is metaphor for the Melbourne/Sydney divide it is S.O.R.

Melburnians don’t get S.O.R. any more than they get Sydneysiders

Let’s get the acronym out of the way. I’ve been going to S.O.R. battles for as long as they’ve been played. For me, and my ratbag Sydney mates, it was our One Day of the Year. We made the annual pilgrimage to the old “footy” stadium and, in true Sydney style, indulged ourselves in everything on offer. This was when S.O.R. was born. We needed an acronym that matched the status of the event. Like WW1 or WW2.

S.O.R. was played at the Sydney Football Stadium, a sporting venue that has been re-badged more times than anyone can count. Imagiine “re-badging” the MCG? Imagine a Victorian using a word like “re-badge”? Melbourne has institutions. Sydney has developers potential. It’s been that way since the Rum Corps ran the show in Sydney.

S.O.R. is a Rum Corps sort of game. It’s not the sort of game free settlers would embrace. That’s why 90% of Melbourne Storm’s supporters are blow ins from north of the border.

S.O.R. is violent. There’s no getting away from it. Players can do things to each other in S.O.R. games they would never be allowed to do in club games, or anywhere else for that matter. My Melbourne friends find this confusing. Especially the ones I run around a park kicking a ball with. They think S.O.R. is barbaric. That’s if they think about it at all, which most of them don’t. When I turn up for a kick wearing a Blues jumper most of them don’t bat an eyelid. All they’re interested in is football. Kicking a football.

S.O.R. has nothing to do with “football” in that sense. Most kicks in S.O. R. are directed at the head of the opponent rather than the ball. The game itself is deliciously spiteful. Eyes and heads roll with riveting regularity.

This confuses Victorians. How can players who are clubmates, even roommates, put friendship aside and bash the crap out of each other three times a year at S.O.R. time? It’s a convict thing, is the best way I can explain it.

When a Hawthorn played threw a punch in the direction of an opponent it caused an outcry in AFL circles and, in Victoria, that just about means in every household. What a New South Welshman would dismiss as a “love tap” horrified everyone from the Premier to the latest new born.

While the ubiquity of the AFL in Victoria is astonishing to immigrants from across the border, the relative anonymity of rugby league is hardly surprising. Apart from the rusted on, die hard fan in NSW and Queensland, the rest of the country seem to think rugby league is a kind of Neanderthal oddity practiced by descendents of ne’re do wells.

To put it simply most of the people I know in Melbourne regard rugby league with undisguised contempt.

But, while the game itself might admittedly have limited appeal as a game of “football”, S.O.R. transcends sport.

It is, like the Grand Prix, noisily larger than life and just as  impossible to ignore.

A welcome by product for Victorians is that S.O.R. gives them an opportunity to not only take the high moral ground in terms of the game itself but to have a golden opportunity to volubly vent their hatred of NSW and Sydney.

As for me?

I’m coming out of the closet.

After years of admiring the Cane Toads (Queensland) I’ve finally jumped ship and will be shouting,

“Queenslander!!!”, with the best of them.

That’s what living in Melbourne does to you.


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© 2020 by Ned Manning.