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Union's answer to State of Origin: Why the North v South game needs to come back

By Alex McLeod

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2018’s opening chapter of rugby league’s State of Origin in Australia was one that caught the eye of many rugby union followers across the ditch in New Zealand.


As one of Australia’s most high-profile yearly sporting events, State of Origin draws in an enviably large audience across Australasia. It’s a rarity for stadiums to not sell out, and sports fans are captivated by the majesty surrounding the event as they tune in from across
the continent.

While many Kiwi fans enjoyed New South Wales’ 22-12 victory over Queensland as much as the 87,000 that crammed into the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch the spectacle a fortnight ago, some must have begged the question as to why New Zealand rugby hasn’t formulated their own version of the three-match series?

It used to exist in the form of the annual North Island vs South Island contest in the days of the amateur era, but it came to a standstill following the North’s comprehensive 63-22 victory at Oamaru’s Centennial Park in 1995.

A one-off fixture took place in 2012 at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin as a fundraising effort for the financially embattled Otago Rugby Football Union, but that was the 80th and final instalment of the once iconic fixture.

Since its dissolution as an annual clash, there has been a gap in New Zealand rugby tradition that fans across the country have been craving.

Much like State of Origin, it was a contest founded upon a rivalry between the two regions that still exists today, and that rivalry stems from the pride that is instilled within Kiwis based on where they and their families call home.


That regional pride is ever-present in modern day New Zealand, and one only needs to look as far as the Mitre 10 Cup and the Heartland Championship to get a glimpse of it.

However, it isn’t as evident as it once was back in the NPC heyday of the 20th century. The second coming of annual North vs South encounters would not only reignite and amplify the passion Kiwis have for their respective regions on a national scale, but it would help them rediscover a sense of tribalism that is desperately vacant from all facets of the New Zealand sporting landscape.

That tribalism is what separates State of Origin from a vast array of other sporting events across Australasia, and it’s what is so vitally needed in not just New Zealand rugby, but in the whole of New Zealand sport.

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Although the development of Super Rugby has undoubtedly aided the unprecedented dominance in world rugby by New Zealand teams, the professional nature of its existence has evaporated the old-school, atmospheric rivalries – eg, Auckland vs Canterbury – that was so prominent among both players and fans alike in the amateur era, and with it has gone the tribal attitude and loyalty that players and fans felt towards their provinces.

The sight of overflowing crowds in the stands as provinces fight for NPC glory while fans give everything they’ve got to support the men representing their region is now a thing of the past, and that’s the result of a lost sense of rivalry and tribalism within New Zealand rugby
culture that’s come with the professionalism of the game.

State of Origin has never lost sight of that. Supporters of both New South Wales and Queensland are unrelenting and are among the wildest sporting fans you’ll find in this corner of the globe.

Given the similarities in the concept of honouring your roots in State of Origin and North vs South, the re-emergence of the latter has the potential to bring back that overwhelming feeling of fandom and passion that was once embedded in this nation’s rugby identity, and
is still easily identifiable in Australian rugby league’s most sought after series.

The lure of the nation’s best players representing the island of which they qualify for – in accordance to State of Origin eligibility rules (which includes where you were born, where you lived on the most growing up, and where you were educated the most) – would make it impossible for fans to not throw their support behind such an intriguing contest that would have the star power and quality of a top-class test match.

For a 115-year tradition of this magnitude with so much potential to have been brought to an abrupt halt at the dawn of the professional age can be described as a tragedy of sorts, so surely the chance to match State of Origin with the reinstallation of our own North vs South
should be seriously considered.

Potential North vs South line-ups (under State of Origin rules):

North Island:
1 – Kane Hames (Birthplace: Wellington; School(s): Te Aute College/Trident High School)
2 – Dane Coles (Paraparaumu; Paraparaumu College/Wellington College)
3 – Nepo Laulala (Samoa; Wesley College)
4 – Scott Barrett (New Plymouth; Francis Douglas Memorial College)
5 – Sam Whitelock (Palmerston North; Feilding High School)
6 – Liam Squire (Palmerston North; Palmerston North Boys’ High School)
7 – Sam Cane (Reporoa; Reporoa College/Tauranga Boys’ College)
8 – Kieran Read (Papakura; Rosehill College/St Kentigern College)
9 – Aaron Smith (Palmerston North; Feilding High School)
10 – Beauden Barrett (New Plymouth; Francis Douglas Memorial College)
11 – Rieko Ioane (Auckland; Auckland Grammar School)
12 – Sonny Bill Williams (Auckland; Mount Albert Grammar School)
13 – Jack Goodhue (Whangarei; Mount Albert Grammar School)
14 – Waisake Naholo (Fiji; Wanganui City College)
15 – Jordie Barrett (New Plymouth; Francis Douglas Memorial College)
16 – Codie Taylor (Levin; Feilding High School/Horowhenua College)
17 – Karl Tu’inukuafe (Auckland; Wesley College)
18 – Ofa Tu’ungafasi (Tonga; Mangere College)
19 – Tom Franklin (Opotiki; St Paul’s Collegiate School)
20 – Ardie Savea (Wellington; Rongotai College)
21 – TJ Perenara (Porirua; Mana College)
22 – Lima Sopoaga (Wellington; Wellington College)
23 – Nehe Milner-Skudder (Taihape; Queen Elizabeth College)

South Island:
1 – Joe Moody (Birthplace: Christchurch; School(s): Christ’s College)
2 – Ash Dixon (Christchurch; Christchurch Boys’ High School)
3 – Owen Franks (Motueka; Christchurch Boys’ High School)
4 – Patrick Tuipulotu (Christchurch; St Peter’s College)
5 – Brodie Retallick (Amberley; Christchurch Boys’ High School)
6 – Elliot Dixon (Christchurch; St Bede’s College)
7 – Matt Todd (Christchurch; Kaiapoi High School/Christchurch Boys’ High School)
8 – Liam Messam (Blenheim; Rotorua Boys’ High School)
9 – Mitchell Drummond (Nelson; Nelson College)
10 – Richie Mo’unga (Christchurch; Riccarton High School/St Andrew’s College)
11 – David Havili (Nelson; Motueka High School/Nelson College)
12 – Ryan Crotty (Nelson; Shirley Boys’ High School)
13 – Anton Lienert-Brown (Christchurch; Christchurch Boys’ High School)
14 – Ben Smith (Dunedin; King’s High School)
15 – Damian McKenzie (Invercargill; Christ’s College)
16 – Braydon Mitchell (Invercargill; King’s High School/Southland Boys’ High School)
17 – Tim Perry (Ashburton; St Andrew’s College)
18 – Atu Moli (Gisborne; Malborough Boys’ College)
19 – Luke Romano (Nelson; Christchurch Boys’ High School)
20 – James Lentjes (Christchurch; St Bede’s College)
21 – Josh Renton (Dunedin; Otago Boys’ High School)
22 – Mitch Hunt (Nelson; Nelson College)
23 – Michael Collins (Queenstown; Wakatipu High School/Otago Boys’ High School)

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