SINCEREST THANKS

My confession for today is this: sometimes, Hoff and I don’t exactly see eye-to-eye.

Sometimes we respectfully disagree. Sometimes we share a heated exchange. And sometimes we argue around in circles until I lobby our cat Rosie for her support so we can outvote Hoff 2-1. At this he usually refuses to talk to me again until I leave the cat out of it.

One of our biggest recurring disagreements is this: Ryan thinks that I am overly zealous in my pride and status as a Melbournian.

Pffft. What would he know? Can I help it if I was born and raised in the best city in Australia and possibly (probably) the world?

He reckons that my unashamed city pride is obvious because I will vehemently dispute any anti-Melbourne sentiment, but blindly and wholeheartedly agree with any Melbourne endorsement.

This might be true, but it has nothing to do with the fact that I am a proud Melbournian. It’s just that all the bad things I hear about Melbourne are wrong and all the great things I hear about Melbourne are right.

How is that my fault?

Case in point: State of Origin 1.

Much was said about the decision to host the series opener in Melbourne, and not all of it was nice. It was a shame that any negativity permeated its way into the lead up of what was essentially an exciting moment for the legitimate national expansion of our game, but far be it from me to wish to stifle healthy debate.

The point is, it turned out be one of those aforementioned moments where the anti-Melbourne rhetoric was wrong, and we in the pro-Melbourne camp had a win.

SOO1 in Melbourne was absolutely a success. Record breaking ratings, a sold out stadium, and a game that rugby league fans will not soon forget. Surely, as a code, this is all we could wish for.

And yes, that stadium was full on Wednesday night. Some may think it was full of the wrong type of people (Victorians), which seems archaic at best. At worst, it’s a little rude.

I am sure I am not alone when I say that the build up to the game down here was fantastic. Rarely has rugby league had such a palpable presence in this state.

All of my trips to Tullamarine over the last couple of months were watched over by Paul Gallen, grimacing down at me from an over-freeway billboard.

I have listened to my sister chat excitedly about the group of ten of her workmates that had arranged tickets well in advance to go and make a night of it.

We drove to Etihad Stadium on Wednesday night through a sea of Blue and Maroon.

It was ace. And it was a far cry from some of my earlier experiences of supporting rugby league in Melbourne.

Admittedly, my own foray into the world of rugby league was initially not so much an exercise in curiosity, as it was in practicality. Ryan came to me as a package deal – love him, love the game. So I did.

I was a quick and enthusiastic convert, and in the early days I found myself spending a lot of time and energy explaining my new found hobby (and boyfriend) to my Melbourne friends and family.

Some of my favourite quotes went like this:

“So, your new boyfriend, he’s a rugby player…. Does he have a neck?”

– My sister, Tara.

“Oh yeah, Melbourne Storm, that’s that basketball team…”

– A girlfriend, on chatting to Ryan about his job.

“When I asked what you did for a living, Ryan dear, I meant what is your job? Surely you have a proper job?”

– A well-meaning aunt.

“So, it’s basically a gigantic, professional game of stacks-on, right?”

– That one was me, actually.

These days, this kind of confusion is rare. Thanks to the tireless work of many rugby league fans, administrators and players, the code has a real presence down here mow, and whilst I miss the hilarity provided by these early exchanges, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

SOO1 was just another step in this important process. Maybe the 8-year-olds of Victoria haven’t always grown up feverishly anticipating the first hit-up of another State of Origin series, but maybe next year some Victorian 9-year-olds will.

That said, I recognise that as a Melbournian, it is easy to get swept up in a sense of entitlement. State of Origin is an exercise built on tradition and for those that have loved it since the beginning, it must not be easy to see that tradition altered.

So to the people of New South Wales and Queensland, I personally would like to say this: we offer our sincerest thanks. Thank you for sharing your amazing exercise in sportsmanship and physicality with us. We loved it, we appreciated it, and if you will let us have it again, we promise we will look after it.

Thank you to the players for a great show. Thank you to the fans that came to Etihad Stadium that night – locals and welcome visitors. Thanks to the Melbourne and Broncos fans who backed up on Friday night and came along to AAMI Park – Bill, Cooper and Cam are not the only ones who deserve a shout out for endurance this week! Thank you to the decision-makers that made it happen.

I think we can now all agree that this is not just another shot-fired in the Melbourne v Sydney or Melbourne v Everyone Else war. This is not about that.

It’s about sharing the rugby league love (man). It’s about exposing new audiences to the jewel in the rugby league crown. It’s about the ‘N’ in NRL.

Which I think is something that we can all agree is important. Even Rosie the cat knows that.*

* No kitties were harmed in the making of this blog

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