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Origin outside a capital

By 4/June/2021

News that the first origin of 2021 will be played in Townsville has set the North Queensland community alight with excitement and the new Qld Country Bank stadium will be a sellout.

From a historical point of view has this ever happened before, a Qld or NSW team playing outside of a capital city?  The answer is ‘no’ for Origin, with the only Origin game played outside of an Australian capital city being the 1987 exhibition match, which was splayed in Los Angeles, USA.

However, the full Queensland representative team has played in country centres before Origin.  The first time this happened was almost 100 years ago when the champion 1924 Qld side played a series of matches in North Queensland.

The 1920s was the first golden era for rugby league in Qld, with series wins over NSW in 1923-26, and 1928.  In fact, this was the most successful era in the game for Qld until Mal Meninga coached the 2006-2013 series’ Origin wins.

The bulk of the Qld side in those days were selected from Brisbane, Ipswich, and Toowoomba, with several North Queensland players making the side whilst based in one of these centres.

The 1924 Qld side defeated NSW 3-0 in the interstate series including a 36-6 win in game three and they also defeated the touring England side and played the first ever Victorian team to tour north and won.  They also dominated selection in the 1924 Australian side to play England, with the whole backline all Queenslanders in one test, something that did not happen again until 2009, 75 years later!  So, at the end of the 1924 season, the QRL decided to send this champion state side on a tour of North Queensland.

In those days, there was no TV, no internet, or mobile phones, probably not many landline phones either, but they did have newspapers and some radio.   Therefore, a typical rugby league fan, or any sports fan in those times, relied heavily on newspaper reports and probably never got to Brisbane to see Queensland or an Australian side in action. 

This 1924 Queensland side were the superstars of the time, fully decked out in new football boots, and resplendent in their maroon jerseys, they mesmerized crowds when they played games against Innisfail, Townsville, the Burdekin, and then a North Queensland representative side.  The game against North Qld in Townville was really the first big match to be played in the North.  It was a history making match, a little like this upcoming Origin match.  The final score of 16-2 to Qld was a good result considering the NQ side probably had little time to train.  This was the same Qld side that defeated NSW and England!

Some of the players from that era became household names at the time, including halfback, Duncan Thompson, who went on to be one of the most influential coaches in the game; and winger, Cec Aynsley, who was originally from Charters Towers.  Another player in the Qld side was Eric Fraunfielder, who later played in the Herbert.

So next Wednesday night when the Qld Origin side run out onto the field at the Qld Country Bank stadium to play NSW, it will be first Origin played in a regional area, but it certainly will not be the first time a champion Qld side has played in North Queensland!

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