The Meaning of Origin: Steve Mortimer
He will be regarded as one of the most passionate New South Welshmen to ever grace the Origin arena – the man who restored state pride to the Blues jersey – but Steve Mortimer, for just a moment, wanted Queensland to win the very first game.
A teammate's of Arthur Beetson for NSW just 12 months earlier, Mortimer was overlooked for Tommy Raudonikis in that first Origin game in 1980 and as he watched events unfold from his home in Sydney, for a brief moment he let the emotion of the occasion cloud his state allegiances.
"I actually watched it on TV and when I watched Arthur Beetson go out..." Mortimer trails off. "I was hoping NSW would win but Beetson was just an absolute icon. You looked at Wally Lewis, Mal Meninga, we're talking about these types of players who are some of the greatest and they had Arthur Beetson as their mentor.
"I benefitted from playing with Arthur Beetson in a NSW jersey before Origin, so I'm a baby boomer and he was one of the most wonderful people that I've ever met and is still the best forward that I have seen in the game."
It took five years from the inception of Origin for NSW to break Queensland's stranglehold and when the chain of Maroon dominance finally ended it did so with the iconic image of NSW captain Mortimer pounding the Sydney Cricket Ground with both fists in triumph.
"I was just so blessed that I happened to be the captain in '85 and I would not be talking to you today unless it was for all my teammates and we were very, very close," says Mortimer, who represented NSW in nine Origin matches. "As 'Fatty' Vautin said to me, 'Turvey, you did a Queensland on Queensland,' and I said, 'Fatty, no, we did a New South Wales on Queensland.'"
But what if the Blues had won from day one? What if the interstate battles that had been awash with Blues victories for the decade prior had carried onto the Origin arena, would we have even reached 100 Origin matches as we will on Wednesday night in Brisbane?
"I still think probably yes but it would have been harder because there was only one game and then the second year there was only one game and in the third year they started the series," Mortimer recalls.
"I think because Queensland won, the series started coming a lot quicker so you know what, who knows. We'd always beat Queensland because we always had a lot of Queenslanders in the team when I played for NSW, players such as Kerry Boustead, John Ribot, Allan Hogg, Arthur Beetson, Rod Reddy.
"As a New South Welshman, I think [Queensland winning in 1980] was probably been a great thing for the growth of rugby league right throughout Australia and New Zealand."
Mortimer missed the 1988 game at Lang Park when cans of XXXX rained down on the field from irate Maroons fans but says the early NSW teams were also subjected to some alcohol-fuelled advice from their interstate rivals.
"It was hard. To get to the dressing sheds we had to go through the bar area and they'd all boo you before you got to the dressing sheds," says Mortimer, who expects a friendlier reception when he attends Game No.100 next Wednesday. "It's refined a lot better now though. It's the best rectangular stadium for sport in Australia, Suncorp."
And although he talks kindly now of his Queensland cousins, Mortimer believes that the progress under the past two Blues coaches has brought NSW back within reach of a first Series win since 2005.
"It's your mentality. It's being tough and prepared for Origin games," he says when asked to define what makes Origin so special. "Sometimes it's not the talent that wins you the games, it's how you apply yourself, how you respond and your mentality and I think over the last few years NSW under Ricky Stuart and now Laurie Daley, and our captain Paul Gallen, we are starting to follow what Queensland have been doing so well. The Series win for NSW is nigh."