Symptom Two: Obsessive-Compulsive Return to Familiar Objects
Let’s just say this about Mitchell Pearce. He is the most talented league halfback in New South Wales: all the skills, great step, devastating running game. He has been the most talented halfback in New South Wales for the past 10 years. So here we go again, traumatised, retreating to our special dark corner to suck on our old teddy-bear. He’s battered and tattered and smells bad, but somehow all those ancient odours and wounds soothe us. When we feel like this, we always go back to Mitchell Pearce. Or the idea of Mitchell Pearce. He is the only halfback with the creativity and class able to go with the Queenslanders and their ever-renewing academy of genius playmakers. Oh Mitchell, we’re sorry we dumped and forgot you at the bottom of the wardrobe. We always loved you, honest we did. Can you come and save us, like we always knew you would?
The diagnostic evidence is as certifiable as the patient. For all his gifts, Pearce never won an Origin series due to his tendency, under the most extreme pressure, to poor decision-making. In the two series New South Wales won in the past eon, their halfbacks were serviceable ball-shufflers in Cleary and Trent Hodkinson, whose prime asset was not raw genius but the ability to think straight, play percentages and avoid catastrophic mistakes. Will we ever learn?
Symptom Three: Inability to learn
This Origin state really does affect the brain. Remember when those excellent earthmovers Paul Gallen and Greg Bird used to suffer delusions of genius late in games and try to win with a chip over the top or a field goal? This came to mind when we saw Boyd Cordner take on tactical kicking duties during the first Origin game. Something happens to the brain out there. Snap! But it’s only the New South Wales brain that snaps in this particular way.
What it remembers, in its subconscious, is the trauma, and not the processes that took it to victory, because victory was the irregularity while trauma was the norm. Fittler, who is now challenged as he has never been in his coaching career, must sit his patients in a circle and hypnotise them so that they remember what works, what has worked before, what will work again. Did it really work? Probably not, but their only hope is to believe it did. For the delusion of adequacy to take hold, they just need to sweep out all the reality of failure.
Symptom Four: Magical Thinking
This one has been around since Arthur Beetson emerged from reserve grade to bluff the original Blues. Bob Lindner, Rod Morris, and now Dane Gagai: the myth of Queenslanders who are bog-ordinary from week-to-week and then turn out in Origin blessed with supernatural powers, transformed by the magic of the maroon jersey, would be a laughable proposition if it weren’t for the fact that every one of the six million people in New South Wales believes it. Something special happens to Queenslanders. It’s uncanny, but … they’re just … better than us, at least for those 80 minutes that count, before slipping back to Clark Kent mediocrity. It’s like they know something about us that we can’t see in ourselves. (Hint: We’re losers.)
Symptom Five: Disabling Self-Pity
We’re in quite a state here. If you’re a thinking – or over-thinking – New South Welshperson, you will have given up by now. Our hope was as false as Ashley Klein’s demonstrations of authority. Origin II in Perth is as good as Queensland’s. They’ve got us. We were deluding ourselves, again, and we just never learnt.
Now that we can identify this state, how do we get out of it? Say what you like about behaviour therapies, group sessions, surgery, electric shock, medication and all the rest of it, the only proven cure is to surrender. We need to be honest about our Origin state. We need to bottom out. And then maybe we (or the players, to be precise, because we are separated from them by our Nullarbors both actual and mental) can relax and do what they do best, play football without thought or fear, give themselves to the moment, let go of everything but pure instinct. (Doctor’s note: see Symptom Four above.)
Now, there’s an ambulance outside and someone knocking at the door. Oh, before I go – next Sunday in Perth? Blues by fifteen. You can just feel it.
Malcolm Knox is a sports columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.