DCE: Let the fans in for Origin
Queensland skipper Daly Cherry-Evans has appealed for fans to be allowed to attend State of Origin amid fears a stadium shutdown could ruin rugby league's showpiece event.
State of Origin's 40-year celebration plans have been thrown into disarray with the coronavirus pandemic raising the stark reality the jewel in the NRL's crown will be played in empty stadiums for the first time in history this season.
State of Origin generates around $90 million in revenue annually and the NRL's innovation team on Thursday announced plans for a three-game series at some stage this season.
But if the Origin series is shifted to July or August, as is expected, the ARL Commission has a major problem. Government social-distancing laws mean NSW and Queensland stars will face the deflating prospect of running out in front of 80,000 and 52,000 empty seats respectively at ANZ and Suncorp Stadiums.
The success of State of Origin is the fierce tribalism generated by NSW and Queensland fans and Cherry-Evans believes a crowd-lockout would be a disaster for the event.
"I think we definitely need Origin on at some stage, but we can't have it on without the fans," the Maroons and Manly skipper told The Sunday Mail.
"We need a crowd there _ that's a non-negotiable for me.
"For the sake of the coronavirus situation, I totally understand why fans should not be attending club games this season, but Origin is so much bigger than the two points of an NRL game.
"It's the showpiece of our game and a huge revenue earner for the NRL.
"That's why we need crowds involved.
"The whole Origin concept is based on tribalism and the passion of the NSW and Queensland fans is what makes Origin.
"I don't know how Origin fits into the schedule with the government protocols but if we can find a way for crowds to attend Origin, I would be happy as a player."
The 2020 Origin opener was originally slated for June 3 for a historic debut at Adelaide Oval, but without crowds, the South Australian experiment will almost certainly be put on ice.
The innovation team will discuss a number of contingencies, including staging two Origin games in Sydney, or giving two matches to Suncorp.
There is a push for Origin to be held after the grand final in mid-October, but key figures are leaning towards holding the event before the NRL finals, even if it means playing in front of no-one.
ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys confirmed State of Origin, which delivered an estimated $12m profit for the NRL last year, is facing an unprecedented crowd freeze.
"In the current circumstances, it's more than likely we won't have crowds for Origin," he said.
"The government haven't indicated they will allow crowds to games for the next six months, but in saying that the infection rate is coming down dramatically.
"Maybe we might get crowds for Origin, but I'm not sure on that one."
Cherry-Evans has played 10 Origin games for the Maroons and can't imagine leading Queensland out this season to the sound of silence.
"It's a weird time for everyone but it would be hard to play Origin in front of empty stadiums," he said.
"I don't care when they play the Origin series, but ideally we need the crowds there.
"If we can preserve Origin to its most pure form, let's leave it at that."
Queensland Rugby League chairman Bruce Hatcher backed Cherry-Evans' stance.
"If we can play Origin in front of crowds later this year, that could generate millions for the NRL," he said.
"The big call is if we play Origin in front of empty stadiums.
"One thing I wouldn't want to do is denigrate what the concept has become. I would hate to see an event like State of Origin become almost irrelavant if it was played in front of no crowds.
"But if Origin can generate some broadcast money for the game, I guess that's a positive."
Originally published as DCE: Let the fans in for Origin