The hype surrounding the greatest rivalry in Australian sport, State of Origin, went up a gear today as the Queensland Maroons hosted a fan day in Federation Square.
The masses piled into Melbourne’s CBD to catch a glimpse of their heroes, grab an autograph and hear from both captain and coach ahead of Wednesday night’s blockbuster game two at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
Melbourne Storm and Queensland captain Cameron Smith received an almighty roar from the home crowed when he took the stage. Smith said he is looking forward to playing at the MCG in front of what is likely to be a record crowd.
The biggest crowd he had ever played in front of was about 87,000 in a grand final and he expects Wednesday’s game will “smash that” – a crowd of well over 115,000 is expected. “I have never played there myself; it’s going to be a great experience for all of us,” he said.
Game two is a must win for the NSW Blues if they hope to keep the series alive and push it to a game three decider. However, on what is supposedly neutral territory, the Maroons seem to have rallied a lot of support over the past few years, thanks in no small part to the Melbourne Storm contingent of Smith, Slater, Cronk and, most recently, Will Chambers.
Queensland coach Mel Meninga was feeling the love as well and looks forward to the clash. “We know we have a great following down here, we love the support, Happy to be here,” he told the crowd.
The players appeared extremely relaxed throughout the day, smiling, laughing, posing for pictures and signing autographs. They certainly seem to be enjoying the week and soaking up everything that comes with an Origin build up.
Controversial half-back Daly Cherry-Evans received a mixed bag of boos and cheers as he walked on stage, not that it appeared to dampen his spirits. The star half was quickly defended by his captain: “Daley is a great player. It is unfortunate what happened to Cooper (Cronk) with the knee injury but I’m sure he (Cherry-Evans) will do the job for us. He is a great player, he will go good.”
The opportunity for Victorian fans to rub shoulders with the Queensland players has lifted the energy surrounding Origin to a new high as every day brings more anticipation and excitement.
State of Origin returns to the MCG in five days. – Jackson Thomas