State of Origin revives War of the Roses debate…again

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Lancashire coach Andy Gregory and Yorkshire coach Lee Crooks ahead of the 2001 War of the Roses fixture

AS the latest hostilities in the on-going inter-state warfare dressed up as rugby league that is State of Origin broke out in Australia on Wednesday, a very different kind of regional rivalry was being exorcised on these shores.
The world of county cricket is somewhat more genteel than the annual oval-ball showdown between New South Wales and Queensland – a typically-attritional first match of this year’s series being edged 6-4 by the Maroons – although the Roses Match is never anything less than bitterly fought between those age-old rivals Yorkshire and Lancashire.
So while Australia’s top rugby league footballers were belting seven bells out of each other at, those in attendance at Headlingley’s cricket ground were witnessing the White Rose county run through their Red Rose counterparts en route to a 185-run victory.
That was thanks in no small part to one of their own, the Pontefract-born, former England fast bowler Tim Bresnan, who finished with figures of 4-36 in the second innings after Lancs had been bowled out for 173 in their second innings.
In the eyes of many, this is the ultimate way for the young men of Yorkshire and Lancashire to test their mettle against each other – at least since the actual Wars of the Roses ceased some 529 years ago.
Of course, with this being State of Origin time, the question of why there is no equivalent to rugby league’s clash of ‘State versus State, Mate versus Mate’ in this country has again reared its head.
The amateur game still retains an annual clash between the two counties in the form of BARLA’s County Tri-Series, which also features a team from Cumbria, albeit on a depressingly low-profile basis.
The 15-man game’s County Championship generally features a match-up between the two as well, although it has not been contested in league on a professional basis for 13 years.
The 18th Man were among those leading the clamour for a return to the annual Yorkshire-Lancashire showdowns, citing a highly unscientific Twitter poll which showed 78 per cent supporting reviving the series.
How many of the 170 of 218 total voters recall the previous attempts to breathe life into the concept is unsure, but it is a format which has been tried on several occasions and each time died of indifference.
Yorkshire and Lancashire had faced each other annually since the first season of Northern Union rugby back in 1895, with the original inter-county series being axed following the 1982 edition.
It was resurrected three years later as the ‘Rodstock War of the Roses’, although its seven season saw Yorkshire, under the guidance of coach Peter Fox, completely dominate and win every single encounter.
Former Hull Kingston Rovers second rower Andy Kelly recalled some years later in an interview with the Yorkshire Post how much it meant to the players though, saying: “It’s funny thinking back how big an honour playing for Yorkshire really was.
“Back then, we all certainly bought into it and so did the clubs because the players were allowed to play; it wasn’t seen as a toothache fixture.
“Alex Murphy was still the Lancashire coach at the time I played so there was tremendous rivalry between the two counties.”

After the 1991 game, the match went into abeyance for 10 years until The RFL resurrected it, with players born outside of the two counties eligible to represent whichever one they first played senior rugby in.
As far as the players were concerned, it was a concept to be relished.
“I missed out on playing in the old Lancashire v Yorkshire games,” Lancashire captain Andy Farrell told the BBC.
“When I started playing in the first team, the county matches hadn’t been played for a couple of years. But it’s something I grew up watching and something I always wanted to play in.”
The one-off game in 2001, which Lancashire won 36-24 at Headingley, was extended to a two-match series the following year, with the Red Rose county winning both fixtures.
Yorkshire stormed to a 56-6 in the 2003 match, but just 6,454 spectators showed up to the midweek match at Odsal, and the concept has not been seen or heard of since.

International Origin

The short-lived International Origin series failed to capture the imagination

Even the much-vaunted International Origin series, launched in 2011 and featuring the best English players in Super League taking on their overseas counterparts, failed to capture the imagination and was axed after three seasons.
The question now is not so much what can be done to make such a series capture the imagination, but whether it is a wise idea to resurrect it at all?
For starters, where would such a game sit in the fixture list? There is already concern about the physical demands the current calendar places on players as it is, without adding an extra one, or even two or three high-intensity fixtures in there.
Secondly, at a time when rugby league is more eager than ever to expand beyond its traditional heartlands, there is a danger that bringing back a Yorkshire-Lancashire fixture merely serve to reinforce old stereotypes in the minds of the games detractors.
And besides, the paying public have repeatedly showed relatively little interest in these games, no matter what their allegiance. This, though, seems a debate which is destined to keep recurring on an annual basis until someone can come up with sensible alternative.
Until then, UK rugby league fans will just have to choose either Blue or Maroon, and savour all the delights State of Origin has to offer.

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