The famous come-from-behind State of Origin series victory amply rewarded those Maroons fans who made the pilgrimage to Suncorp Stadium
After full-time, as supporters spilled out of Suncorp Stadium, Mario De Vecchi emerged grinning ear-to-ear from a sea of maroon. “I just had to give Wally a kiss,” he said, nodding to the iconic Wally Lewis statue. “Amazing – I had tears in my eyes about three times during the game.”
De Vecchi, 46, took three days off work and travelled nearly 2,000km to see Queensland win State of Origin Game III and secure their 11th series victory in 12 years. He flew out of Cairns at 9am on Tuesday, caught up with family and friends, headed into Brisbane for the big game on Wednesday evening, organised the payroll for his construction company on Thursday morning and prepared himself for a long night in the office catching up on all the work he missed out on.
In Cairns, De Vecchi has been involved in local football administration for years, but rugby league is his first love. In 2015 he made the long, expensive journey to Sydney to see his beloved North Queensland Cowboys win their first premiership, and Wednesday night’s game, he reckons, was his 12th or 13th live Origin match, whether it be in Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne.
The youngest son of an Italian cane cutter, De Vecchi grew up beside the Bruce Highway in Edmonton, a sugar town just south of Cairns, and got used to travelling long distances. Dressed in a matching maroon polo shirt and beanie, he was one of thousands of country Queenslanders to make the annual pilgrimage to attend State of Origin. “Everyone knows everyone in Queensland,” he laughed as he bumped into friends from Atherton and Gordonvale before kick-off.
“For us, its not a big deal to travel,” he said. “We do it happily – as kids you learn that to compete at sport you’ve got to travel regularly. We travelled that many times to Townsville, which is four hours away, so to come to Brisbane is no problem. For the country Queenslander this is inbuilt – the only thing I can’t handle is the city traffic.”
Queenslanders are confident people, especially when it comes to sport, but this year there were fears the Maroons, depleted by injuries to key men Matt Scott, Greg Inglis, Darius Boyd and Johnathan Thurston, would struggle against a powerful NSW side.
Indeed for all but two minutes of Game I and II, NSW led the series. Yet Queensland managed to hang on, thanks in part to the genius and the bravery of Thurston in the second meeting, and forced the series to a deciding match in Brisbane. And from there it should never have been in doubt. Of the last 11 deciders played in Queensland, NSW have won just twice.
For the Maroons fans who marched back up Caxton Street after the game, a sense of immense pride seemed to outweigh the feeling of relief. As one excited young Queenslander sung aye aye yippy yippy aye, that famously daggy Queensland victory song, De Vecchi breathlessly delivered his post-match analysis.
“Out of the 17 Queenslanders, who had a bad game?” he asked. “Every player was superb. Our props Jarrod Wallace and [Dylan] Napa totally outshone theirs. Gavin Cooper was excellent. Even that one-eyed bloke from the Broncos… what’s his name… Josh McGuire – he had a great game. And for them, who was any good? Maybe Tyson Frizell?”
In the pubs, weary-looking NSW supporters could only agree. One young woman, up from the Sutherland Shire with her sisters, shook her head forlornly at yet another demoralising defeat. “Queensland are just too good,” she sighed. In his old NSW jumper, Darren, a Blues fan from Grafton, said that his team needed to show more aggression. “Who’s your next coach?” De Vecchi asked him. “I dunno, mate, maybe Gus Gould?” came the half-hearted response.
Across town, Jo Barrett, a former Queensland representative footballer, babysat for her relatives so that they could go to the game. In her playing days Barrett, 36, used to regularly complete a 1,600km round trip from a sheep station outside of Cunnamulla to turn out for the Toowoomba Fillies. Having previously lived in Roma and Warwick, she knows the people of Queensland’s rural southwest will be proud at the Maroons gutsy performance.
“When I was out at Cunnamulla, people would travel for three or four hours for a game of club footy,” said Barrett. “That’s just become part of the Queensland culture. Those country communities do get a genuine lift from the Maroons… a win under those circumstances just means so much to people. It’s so much more than a game.”
The administration and money of rugby league might be located in NSW, but its soul is certainly in Queensland. It’s there in the faith of travellers like De Vecchi and Barrett, who trek further than anybody to stay in the game.
“I felt deep, deep satisfaction for the team, and for the state,” said De Vecchi as he hopped in his hire car to drive to Gold Coast Airport. “We absolutely outclassed them in every department. What we did in Game II was enough to stay proud as Queenslanders, but there was always hope that the mental aspect would pull us through. In the end, physically and tactically we were so far superior that we didn’t even need to rely on the Queensland spirit.”Read more at theguardian.com