So, here we go again. Another State of Origin decider is upon us and it’s hard to tell who is more excited – footy fans or Nine Network executives. In a world of streaming services and watch on demand, an Origin decider is one of the few TV events that can still put millions of bums on lounge-room seats at the same time and Wednesday night’s climax to the 2022 series will be no exception.
From the moment rugby league’s interstate war went to a best-of-three contest in 1982, we have witnessed 21 deciders, with Queensland emerging triumphant on 14 occasions but getting to lift the shield 16 times courtesy of two draws and a fantastic rule which stipulated the reigning champions retain the title. That’s right, readers – I am a Queenslander, tasked with ranking State of Origin’s five most memorable deciders, but can assure our New South Wales supporters I will be unbiased in my summation – just like the late, great Queensland referee Barry Gomersall (insert wink emoji here). Game on!
- Hodgson’s Heartache – 2006
Telstra Dome, Melbourne
Brett Hodgson must hate State of Origin nights. An absolute sensation on debut in 2002, the NSW full-back is better known for being one half of the duo that introduced the term ‘ragdoll’ to rugby league (verb; usage – ‘Gorden Tallis ragdolled Hodgson 15 metres into touch during the 2002 decider’). It is one of Origin’s most replayed moments and closely followed by another Hodgson horror show. As his Blues clung to a 14-10 lead with minutes remaining in the 2006 decider, the premiership winner stepped into dummy half on Melbourne’s Telstra Dome and threw a pass that even AFL fans knew was a shocker. Cue a Darren Lockyer intercept try, a drought-breaking win for the Maroons and a lifetime of Origin-night tremors for Hodgson.
- Alfie’s Return – 2001
ANZ Stadium, Brisbane
There was a time in Queensland when the only thing more popular than Alfie Langer was the Alfie Langer doll, a plastic action figure so cute it inspired Barbie to stray from Ken. The pint-sized half-back from Ipswich was as big as they come up north and never more so than when he answered an SOS from coach Wayne Bennett in 2001. Having retired from the NRL two years earlier, Langer was playing footy and sinking pints in England but didn’t hesitate to fly across the world for his sixth Origin decider and set up several tries, scored one himself and inspired a baby-faced and injury-ravaged Maroons side to a 40-14 drubbing of the Blues.
- Freddie’s Redemption – 2004
Telstra Stadium, Sydney
Queenslanders are taught as toddlers to despise any footballer wearing a sky blue jersey, and that’s a piece of cake when the footballer in question is named Benny Elias or Paul Gallen. The extremely likeable Brad Fittler? Not so easy. So when Freddie’s final Origin match coincided with Alfie Langer’s fairy-tale comeback in 2001, even the hardest of Maroon hearts felt the tiniest bit sorry for the out-and-out champion. Then Fittler did an Alfie of his own by returning for the final two games of the 2004 series, including a decider during which he orchestrated a 36-14 victory and scored a forever-replayed final try after charging down a Darren Lockyer kick. The lesson for Queensland’s youth? There is no such thing as a likeable Blue.
- Tedesco’s Stunner – 2019
ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Maroons fans love talking about Queensland’s legendary spirit – almost as much as Blues fans hate hearing about it. We never say die, we never give up and we never stop telling you that’s the case. Amid all the backslapping and Bundy Rums, though, it’s often forgotten that NSW have conjured their own share of miracle wins across four decades of Origin, and none was more dramatic than the 2019 decider. After the Maroons battled back from a 12-point deficit (did I mention we never give up?) the score was locked at 20-all, with less than a minute on the clock and NSW deep in their own half. Extra time loomed … until the Blues produced a stunning 70-metre surge which resulted in a James Tedesco series-winning try and this backhanded compliment from one-eyed Maroons: “They did a Queensland on Queensland.”
- Wally’s Farewell – 1991
Lang Park, Brisbane
Who else but ‘The King’? Wally Lewis was State of Origin in its infancy, captaining the Maroons in all but one of his 31 appearances and either hailed or despised depending which side of the Tweed River one called home. The 1991 series had already delivered a couple of classic matches – two-point wins to either side – and on the day of ‘The Decider’, Lewis learned his baby daughter was profoundly deaf and decided it would be his final Origin. His teammates were told as they prepared to run on the field and, late in the second half with the Maroons clinging to a two-point lead, the news was announced on the electronic scoreboard. The crowd went wild, the King’s men hung on for a memorable win and Queensland boys and girls went to bed wondering if they had just witnessed a match that would stand the test of time as State of Origin’s greatest decider. You bet they did.