AFL supremo Gillon McLachlan would love to see a State of Origin comeback but concedes it’s unlikely to win the support of protective clubs.
Almost 20 years have passed since the last Origin clash, with Victoria’s nine-goal win over South Australia in 1999 only attracting 26,063 fans to the MCG.
But with rugby league’s flagship series drawing strong crowds and television ratings, many AFL fans remain hopeful of seeing a return to state-based footy.
A recent AFL website survey found 92 per cent support from 76,000 respondents for an Origin return, and a number of players – led by Essendon skipper Dyson Heppell – have said they’d be eager to represent their state.
But the key question – how an Origin series would fit alongside a season which already spreads across 28 weeks, including the finals series – remains unresolved, and McLachlan admits he can’t see a comeback happening.
“I would love to (see it), as a guy who grew up in South Australia watching Tony Hall kick a checkside on the run from 50 metres,” McLachlan told 3AW radio on Friday.
“I know a lot of our supporters would. I get it – we’d love to do it, too. (But) our clubs are so strong and so tribal and so powerful that they protect their players.
“And if you don’t have every player available for State of Origin, as soon as you have one or two of the best guys not playing … I think it’s hard.”
An Origin return would be particularly tough to sell to Western Australian clubs, who already have a significant travel burden.
Heppell earlier said it would be “unreal” to represent Victoria in an Origin clash but admitted it would be difficult to squeeze it into the schedule.
“It’s a tough one trying to fit (a game) in, but I think that it would be something that players really get around,” he told SEN radio.
“I guess clubs may differ, and it may not be seen in the future.”
North Melbourne coach Brad Scott said he would relish the chance to watch the game as a fan but would be reluctant to risk his players being injured.
“I think it’s a real challenge to fit it into the current fixture, and the players will tell you that the demands of the game are higher than ever,” he said on Thursday.
“I know the players would really like two evenly spaced byes throughout the year.
“State of Origin is always going to be driven, or mostly, by what the players want to do and, while they’re pushing for an extra break, it’s hard to schedule in another game.”