That’s in NSW: The Queenslanders who proudly wore sky blue before State of Origin truly meant just that


It’s that time of year when Queenslanders like to remind their saner cousins south of the border that State of Origin is some form of payback for the years Queensland had to suffer defeat after defeat at the hands of NSW in the Interstate Series that preceded the origin concept. In the Interstate Series, players were selected based on their state of residence rather than their state of origin (whatever that actually means), and this saw quite a few Queenslanders play for NSW after relocating to the Sydney competition seeking their fame and fortune.

Queensland folklore would have it that these players were snatched from their homes in the dead of night and bussed to Sydney where they were forced, apparently against their will, to not only play for the likes of Souths, Manly and St George in the NSWRL competition, but also, if they were good enough, put on the sky blue jersey and go into battle against their home state! A travesty of justice by any measure!

Of course, the real story is that these Queenslanders wanted to be paid for their efforts, challenge themselves in the best competition in the country, and improve their chances of playing for Australia.

The result of this maroon-necked diaspora was that not only were QLD deprived of some of their best homegrown talent, but they had to watch their favourite sons help NSW continue its dominance year after year. To illustrate, here’s a pretty handy team made up of QLD homegrown talent who ended up playing for NSW in the Interstate Series.

1. Johnny Rhodes – Born in Brisbane, Rhodes moved from Wests Brisbane to Canterbury-Bankstown in 1968, and his brilliant form saw him play three games for NSW that year and then gain selection for Australia in the 1968 World Cup. An exciting ball runner, Rhodes later returned to QLD and played five matches for QLD in the 1975 and 1976 Interstate Series.

2. Lionel Williamson – Born in Innisfail, Williamson had played seven games for QLD and was selected in the 1968 World Cup squad before he joined Newtown in 1969. He was strong, fast and fearless, and during his time in Sydney, he played three games for NSW and another ten tests for Australia.

3. John McDonald – Hailing from Toowoomba Valleys, McDonald was well-established in both the QLD and Australian teams when he made the move to Manly in 1969, from where he played three times for NSW. A classy centre or winger with blistering pace, he returned to QLD in 1972 and turned his hand to coaching, going on to coach QLD in the inaugural State of Origin game in 1980.

4. Graham Quinn – Quinn was playing for the Brothers club when he was selected to represent QLD in two games in the 1976 Interstate Series. He headed to St George the following year and won premierships with them in both 1977 and 1979. A tough defender and hard runner, he was selected for NSW in Game II of the 1980 Interstate Series and for QLD in Game II of the 1982 Origin series. He also played one Test for Australia.

5. Kerry Boustead – Boustead was plucked from Innisfail as an 18-year-old to represent QLD in the 1978 Interstate Series and was quickly snapped up by the Eastern Suburbs Roosters. While residing in Sydney, he played six games for NSW, before being selected for QLD in the first Origin game in 1980. Diminutive, quick and courageous, he went on to play five more Origins for QLD and 25 Tests for Australia.

6. Graham Laird – Originally from Mackay, Laird was selected to represent QLD in the 1955 Interstate Series. He was then selected in two Tests against France that year, partnering Keith Holman in the halves. He joined Parramatta in 1956 and went on to play one match for NSW before returning to Mackay.

7. Duncan Thompson – Born in Warwick, Thompson was selected at age 20 to represent QLD in 1915, and following service in WWI, he played four more games for his state in 1919. After moving to Sydney to play with North Sydney, he helped them to their only premierships in 1921 and 1922 and was selected for NSW on three occasions before returning to QLD in 1924, going on to play five more games for his state.

8. Kevin Ryan – Ryan was born in Ipswich and played rugby union for both QLD and Australia before switching to rugby league with St George in 1960. He played seven seasons with the Dragons for seven premiership wins, before joining Canterbury in 1967. One of the toughest enforcers in the game, he played eight games for NSW and two Tests for Australia.

9. Noel Kelly – Kelly played his early football in Ipswich and Ayr and played five games for QLD in the 1959 and 1960 seasons. A brutal forward, he made the move to the Western Suburbs Magpies in 1961 and played with them for nine seasons, during which time he played five games for NSW.

10. Arthur Beetson – Beetson first made a name for himself while playing for Redcliffe in the 1964 and 1965 seasons, and then linked up with Balmain in 1966 for five seasons, before he really hit his peak with Eastern Suburbs. A legend of the game, he was one of NSW’s best players, turning out 17 times for the Blues before captaining QLD in both the first Origin match in 1980 and also in the final Interstate Series in 1981.

Arthur Beetson in 2009. (Photo by Craig Golding/Getty Images)

11. Elton Rasmussen – Hailing from Maryborough, Rasmussen debuted for QLD in 1959 before joining St George Dragons in 1962. During his stay in Sydney, the big, mobile and destructive ball runner was selected for seven games for NSW. He returned to QLD in 1969 to play with Souths (Brisbane) and was selected to play a swansong match for QLD that year.

12. Harry Bath – Bath made his first-grade debut as a 16-year-old with Souths (Brisbane) in 1940 and played two games for QLD in 1945 before heading to the Balmain Tigers in 1946 for two seasons. One of the best forwards the game has seen, while in Sydney he was one of the first players picked in the NSW side, playing five matches for his adopted state.

13. Rod Reddy – Originally from Rockhampton, Reddy joined the St George Dragons as a teenager and stayed for 12 years. One of the best players in the world at his peak, he played a dozen times for NSW between 1973 and 1980 without losing a game, and finally got to play for his home state in the inaugural Origin match in 1980, notching up another win.

14. John Lang – Lang was an institution at Easts Brisbane during his 11-year career with them, winning three premierships along the way, and he played for his QLD on 18 occasions, tasting victory only once. He made the move to the Roosters in 1980 for a single season and was selected for NSW in Game II of the Interstate Series. His final representative game was for QLD in the first Origin game in 1980.

Former Queensland Origin players John Lang and Cameron Smith during the Queensland Maroons State of Origin team announcement in 2014. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

15. John Wittenberg – Born in Wide Bay, Wittenberg represented QLD on five occasions between 1962 and 1966 and had made the Australian team by the time he joined St George for three seasons in 1968. The tough-as-teak front rower went on to play five times for his adopted state.

16. Kel O’Shea – Born in Ayr, O’Shea was selected for QLD in 1953 and went on to play eight games for his state across the 1953, 1954 and 1955 Interstate Series. He then made the move to the Western Suburbs Magpies in Sydney where he starred for the next eight seasons. During this time, the destructive back-rower played eight games for NSW and was an automatic selection for the Australian team.

17. Rod Morris – Born in Ipswich, Morris was part of the 1977 and 1978 premiership-winning teams for Easts (Brisbane), and by the time he headed to the Balmain Tigers in 1979, he had already represented QLD on seven occasions, losing every game. While he was with Balmain he represented NSW six times, winning on each occasion. He represented his home state in the very first origin match in 1980 and went on to play three more Origins for QLD.

Honourable mentions to Bob Hagan, Steve Hage, Ray Higgs, John Ribot, Paul McCabe, Paul Khan, Mick Veivers and Bruce Walker who also began their careers in QLD before heading to Sydney where they were selected for NSW in the Interstate Series. This is by no means an exhaustive list though, and apologies to those I have omitted.

In the eyes of a Queenslander, that’s an awful lot of talent to be playing for the wrong team. I wonder how much better QLD would have fared with these players available to them rather than to the opposition? I also wonder how NSW would have fared not only without these players, but also if a similar number of NSW players of the same calibre were playing for QLD rather than NSW? A further question is would the careers of Beetson, Reddy, Kelly, Ryan, and co. have reached the heights they did had they remained in Queensland? I think not.

It wasn’t all one-way traffic though, as before Origin came a number of quality players from south of the border who found themselves running out for Queensland in the Interstate Series, including the likes of Bill Farnsworth (1912), Henry Holloway (1959), Henry Porter (1945) and John Sattler (1973).

Queenslanders have understandably loved the Origin concept from day one because it finally gave them a chance to see their own players wearing maroon jerseys rather than blue. And fair enough. More than that though, it has given them the opportunity to end the NSW dominance of interstate football, but they still have a long way to go to overhaul NSW’s overall lead in the interstate rivalry.

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