STATE of Origin is coming to Perth.
Rugby league’s biggest draw card will be played at the new Perth Stadium in 2019 and if there is one thing I have noticed on social media since last night’s announcement it is a prevailing attitude from those in the east that ‘no one in Perth cares about rugby league’.
Ten or 15 years ago that might have held some truth, but Perth in 2016 is a different place.
I have lived in WA for nearly 30 years, my parents deciding to move west from the inner Sydney suburbs to raise my brother and I (and subsequently another brother and a sister).
In that time league has been the one constant that has tied me to my state of birth, and for many years, declaring a love for the game was without fail received with a bemused look.
Sure, we had a team – the Reds came and went; while the WACA Ground was not the best venue to watch a game played on a rectangular field, the Reds’ demise was down to the collapse of Super League rather than a lack of interest.
But the state of rugby league since 1997 in general, let alone in Perth, is night and day.
Now, WA has a large population of expats from NSW, Queensland and New Zealand, lured west by the mining boom.
They have brought their love for the game with them, which has seen them and their kids join local rugby league clubs, resulting in a strong and thriving NRL WA first grade competition, and junior registrations climbing in the thousands year-on-year.
The growth of the game in WA has seen South Sydney host a home game at the dedicated rectangular stadium at Perth Oval for the past eight years, and tomorrow Manly clashes with New Zealand in front of a Perth crowd for the third successive year.
Channel 9 now telecasts games live to Perth on Thursday and Friday nights and Sunday afternoon, and in October we will host Australia and New Zealand in a test match.
The NRL is clearly keen to grow the game outside the traditional rugby league states.
The next step, besides a Perth NRL team (an argument for another day), is Origin; league’s biggest draw.
The novelty factor alone should ensure a big crowd, but factor in the expats and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind it will be a sell out.
Yet the overwhelming response from my New South Welsh brethren and those in Queensland is that the game should not leave their borders; it is their states that play therefore it is their game.
That does not wash given an Origin exhibition match was played in Los Angeles in 1987 and eight games have been played in Melbourne (fun fact: the record crowd for an Origin game was the 91,513 who turned out last year at the MCG to watch NSW beat Queensland 26-18).
Still, they say it is their game.
Heck, if Perth can host a USA vs Canada ice hockey international, why can’t we host State of Origin?
Whatever people over east may say, one thing is certain – come game two of the 2019 Origin series, I will be sat inside Perth Stadium decked out in blue and cheering on the state that introduced me to the great game. And I will not be alone.
The author is a long-suffering St George Illawarra Dragons fan, but loves most sports.