For the majority of State of Origin’s existence, NSW have done their level best to claim that the annual interstate showdown means just as much to them as it does to Queensland.

It never has and probably never will.

Despite all the marketing campaigns, curly blue wigs and attempts from players and coaches to establish an unbreakable bond with the eight million-plus people who inhabit Australia’s most populous state, there is still a disconnect.

North of the Tweed River, there’s never even been a debate about their team’s symbiotic relationship with the sons and daughters of the Sunshine State. 

It’s held a special place in Queensland hearts ever since Arthur Beetson returned for his iconic “debut” in 1980 and is now stronger than ever after more than four decades of defying the odds and breaking Blues hearts. 

The only time there has ever been anything resembling a question around the Queensland spirit was in the early 1990s when there was a heavy contingent of well-paid Broncos in the team who fared poorly against NSW. 

Then the miracle of the 1995 series sweep under Paul Vautin re-established and re-energised the Queensland spirit, elevating it to mythical proportions … but don’t tell anyone clad in maroon that it’s not real.

The hyperbole can be a little much when rookie players come into camp and say they would die for Queensland but the dyed-in-the-Maroon indoctrination that kids get before kindergarten stays with them for life.

For all the jokes about the “That’s in Queensland” birthplaces of Maroons players, it is a sign that anyone with even tenuous claims to a jersey has an overwhelming desire to turn out for their adopted state. 

Sharks winger Ronaldo Mulitalo was in tears in 2021 when he was informed that he was not eligible to make his Queensland debut because his family had moved from New Zealand one year too late for him to qualify.

NSW have the opposite problem in that they need to convince players with dual eligibility who, in some cases, were born in the state to wear the sky-blue.

Luke Keary had to be convinced to play for NSW the year before the Mulitalo debacle despite wanting to be a Maroon after growing up in Ipswich.

Haumole Olakau’atu is the latest Blues player who has been forced to defend his previous allegiance to the Maroons. As recently as 2022, he posted on social media that he has “Been a Maroons since day dot”.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 28: (L-R) Cameron McInnes, Haumole Olakau'atu, Zac Lomax, Spencer Leniu, Dylan Edwards and Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii of the Blues pose during a New South Wales Blues State of Origin media opportunity at NSWRL Centre of Excellence on May 28, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Blues debutants Cameron McInnes, Haumole Olakau’atu, Zac Lomax, Spencer Leniu, Dylan Edwards and Joseph Suaalii. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

A Tongan representative, he is entitled under rugby league’s rubbery eligibility criteria to play for the nation of his family’s heritage. 

But the fact that he was a Maroons fan is odd given he was born and raised in Sydney. 

This is on the back of the Blues selecting Tevita Pangai jnr in 2023, mercifully for one game, after he had said four years earlier that he was a Queensland supporter to the point where the then Broncos forward offered his services even when not part of the squad: “If Kevvie (Walters) needs anyone to run against me (at Maroons training), I’m available.”

Jarome Luai is another Blue who had to backtrack when he was called into Origin after footage emerged of him immediately responding “Queensland” in a one or the other Q&A in Samoan camp for the 2017 World Cup which included other momentous either/or topics like Kanye or Tupac.

You can see why players with dual eligibility or shaky claims to being a Maroon are so hellbent on being a Bananabender that they will bend the rules to get in. 

Their players are adored by the entire state from the Coolangatta to Cape York. They can do no wrong even when they lose.

However, for the NSW players, they are often on a hiding to nothing via the dreaded tall poppy syndrome. The state’s generational elitism means they are expected to win and anything less will receive criticism from the fans and media alike.

If you stick your head into the press box at an Origin game, it’s easy to tell where the journalists are from. 

The Queensland ones often openly cheer for their team because it means more eyeballs on their coverage while the NSW reporters are hoping the Blues win but are not unhappy when they lose because they know that bad news in their state generates more interest.

Queensland players not only have a greater affinity with their state but they seem more connected to the goal of also representing the Kangaroos. 

In the last World Cup year of 2022, eight of the 11 NSW squad members with dual eligibility went on to represent other countries at the World Cup but four Maroons rejected the advances of heritage nations to play for the Kangaroos with only Felise Kaufusi and Josh Papalii electing to bypass a shot at a green and gold jersey.

NSW also has a long-standing divide with its First Nations players while Queensland’s Indigenous representation has consistently been higher. 

The Blues have been forced to fend off criticisms for many years that they have consistently overlooked the claims of Indigenous players like Nathan Blacklock and Anthony Mundine.

This was one of the reasons why Greg Inglis pledged his allegiance to Queensland despite only spending a couple of years north of the border as a teenager after being scouted by Melbourne and placed in their Brisbane-based feeder system. 

It is not a great look on that front for the Blues trying to change that perception that incumbent duo Cody Walker and Josh Addo-Carr have been dropped and fellow Indigenous All-Star Latrell Mitchell has been overlooked for a recall with an Origin rookie picked ahead of him at centre.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 21: Maroons players line up for the national anthems ahead of game two of the State of Origin series between the Queensland Maroons and the New South Wales Blues at Suncorp Stadium on June 21, 2023 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

NSW only seems to unite around the Blues when they are winning and that is never enough for their fans’ liking. 

You can bet that Blues players in camp during the build-up to Wednesday’s series opener will at some stage say “it’s a load of crap” that the jersey means more to them. 

But it does. When the match is into the final stages, lungs are burning and the result is on the line, who do you want alongside you in the defensive line – a teammate who has had the significance of Origin ingrained into them since they were in their maroon cot or the guy wearing sky-blue who up until a couple of years ago was cheering for the other team.

Queensland are the favourites with the bookmakers heading into the series opener yet they still retain the air of the written-off underdogs. 

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 16: NSW Blues head coach Michael Maguire poses for a photograph during the 2024 State of Origin Series Launch at Melbourne Cricket Ground on April 16, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

NSW Blues coach Michael Maguire. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

NSW are the outsiders according to those who calculate the odds but are still expected to win straight up or face the sack. 

The Blues are never going to be able to replicate the Queensland spirit or be seen as anything but the privileged state with more players to choose from who should be whipping the Maroons’ butts on an annual basis. 

Rather than trying to claim equal footing when it comes to the ethereal battle for spirit bragging rights, the Blues need to lean into the blueblood theme. 

Embrace the expectation of being the team that can choose from a much bigger talent pool, the state with a much bigger population and history of success, if you count those oft-forgotten pre-Origin decades when NSW routinely routed their northern neighbours. 

If they keep trying to play the Queenslanders at their own game of who cares most about Origin, they will never win that debate. 

They are better off worrying about winning the only contest that counts. Easier said than done.

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