• NSW players celebrate winning the 2018 State of Origin series between the Blues and the Maroons at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. (AAP Image/Darren England) (AAP)Source: AAP
Timana Tahu provides a guide to the start of the State of Origin series, sharing an insight into what it’s like before running on to the field, some advice for the débutantes and celebrating the central contribution of Indigenous athletes.
Timana Tahu

5 Jun 2019 - 3:37 PM  UPDATED 5 Jun 2019 - 3:37 PM

State of Origin is the pinnacle of rugby league.

To be given the honour to play, at first it’s a surreal thing.

You’re pinching yourself because it’s all you dreamt about when you were a kid, wanting to play for your state.

Then running out in front of 60,000 or 70,000 crazy people screaming is just another level, and when you’re walking out of the tunnel you can feel the ground actually shake, you can feel the roar.

The preparation of Origin as well is intense. You get to hear first-hand about the history of the rivalry and you get all the old boys coming in and talking about their experiences playing State of Origin.

If you haven’t really watched it before or don’t know too much about State of Origin rugby league, you should definitely tune in on Wednesday night, and also to Over the Black Dot on NITV for more on the clash.

The passion of the players is on another level and when you’re playing with the best players in the world, every run, every tackle, every kick and every chase means much more than just playing for your club or even playing for your country.

Personally, this time of year and State of Origin draws upon so many memories. My Nan’s a Queenslander, from a town called Cunnamulla, and the rest of the family were from NSW so there was even a rivalry in the family home.

For me growing up as a young kid, watching the game was so special and then playing tackle football on the lounge room with my dad, that was such a strong memory and just the hype of it all stays with you forever.

The history of State of Origin is also what makes it an honour to be a part of.

When the NSW and Queensland rugby league rivalry started more than 100 years ago, and up until 1980, it used to be Queenslanders who played for a Sydney club played for NSW, so it was always NSW beating Queenslanders.

Then Arthur Beetson became the first captain of Queensland in the first official State of Origin match in 1980, and that’s when all the Queenslanders went back to Queensland to play State of Origin.

So the strong and rich Indigenous connection to State of Origin started right in the first official Origin match, and it’ll continue tomorrow night with some of the game’s very best players representing their states, but also their families and communities.

One of those athletes is Cody Walker who makes his State of Origin debut.

If I was to offer any advice to him, or any of the other debutants, it would be that you’re meant to be there.

There’s a reason why Cody Walker’s in the No.6 jumper for NSW and nothing’s ever just given. Everything is earned and he’s earned that jumper.

So if he’s walking into camp and walking on that field and knowing that he owns that jumper, then everything will play out. He’ll play his best football and he’ll play like he belongs there.

That was also the thing for me when I was playing. When I walked out I felt like I belonged and I didn’t feel like I was out of my comfort zone and I didn’t feel like this was overwhelming for me.

It was just a feeling and a lot of the players that are picked and play in the Origin, you’re meant to be there.

Cody Walker’s one of those players who belongs in State of Origin.

But he’ll certainly have to be on his game and it’s always an awesome spectacle to watch.

Because when you start playing representative football it becomes a yardage game. It’s about who holds the ball the most, who gets the most possession of the ball and who gains the most ground while in possession.

It’s a game of who breaks first and that’s probably the most important thing if you’re not a fan of the game or watch much rugby league; what the teams are trying to do is break each other physically and mentally.

It might look to be just bit of a backwards and forwards game for some people, but if you look deeper, the teams are just trying to out-enthuse each other and they’re trying to mentally wear their opponent down, trying to physically wear their opponent down and every play is a big play.

Timana Tahu is a former rugby league, rugby union player and dual international, husband, father and a vegan advocate and panellist for NITV's Over the Black Dot

Over The Black Dot airs Tuesdays, 8.30pm on NITV (Ch. 34).