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AFL legend Dermott Brereton admitted that despite Victoria being a traditional Aussie Rules heartland, State of Origin cuts through the noise like nothing else.

“Whenever you mention the NRL or State of Origin we all stop,” he told media on Monday, at an event commemorating 30 years of Origin at the MCG.

“We all stop and watch it, and say, it’s the best showpiece rugby league in the world.”

Brereton joined Laurie Daley and Mal Meninga at the Melbourne Tram Museum to recreate the cover of the 1994 match program in which the rival Origin captains and Raiders teammates were hanging out of a tram driven by the then-Sydney Swans player.

Laurie Daley, Dermot Brereton and Mal Meninga re-created Scott 'Boo' Bailey's famous cartoon on the cover of the 1994 MCG Origin program.
Laurie Daley, Dermot Brereton and Mal Meninga re-created Scott 'Boo' Bailey's famous cartoon on the cover of the 1994 MCG Origin program. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

“Thirty years goes by very quickly,” Daley reflected, when asked what he remembered of posing for the photo back then.

“It was interesting to meet Dermie [Brereton] then - a legend of the AFL world and Australian sport - and for him to give his time and support rugby league back 30 years ago, and then to do it again today is great for our code.”

State of Origin has been inextricably linked to the growth of rugby league in Melbourne.

It was on the back of the record 87,161 crowd who watched the Blues win on June 8, 1994, and the success of further Origins at the MCG in 1995 and 1997, that the Melbourne Storm was established in 1998.

Origin has been played in Melbourne every three years since 2006, with the exception of the COVID-disrupted 2021, and attracted a crowd of 91,513 when it returned to the MCG in 2015.

Origin Moments: MCG 1994

“We come along expecting to see a game of rugby league and what we see is just brutal fireworks, Brereton explained. “I find it a much more honest sport than Australian rules football.

"You’ve got [the ball], you’re on one side and, in simplistic terms, you’ve got to get it to the other side. And there’s a couple of blokes on the other side really willing to take you down.”

After a six-year hiatus due to COVID restrictions in 2021, Origin returns to Melbourne on Wednesday night at a time when rugby league is booming, with:

  • participation numbers at Victorian clubs being up 21% on 2023 - the largest growth of any state;
  • NRL free-to-air TV ratings increasing by 9% in Victoria;
  • The Storm surpassing 30,000 members for the first time, while attracting a record average home crowd of 20,800 so far this season;
  • The Storm boasting the second largest fanbase in NRL behind Broncos, with 1.68m supporters (YouGov Sport);
  • Victorians buying tickets for NRL matches increasing by 465,000, and;
  • Rising stars Sua Fa’alogo and Dean Ieremia being genuine Victoria pathways products.

Sua continues to shine

"We as Melburnians, even those who don’t understand, don’t follow [and] don’t link into rugby league, say who’s your team? Melbourne Storm,” Brereton said, noting that he has been a regular Storm member since the club's inception.

“It’s brought an awareness, a great awareness to a public… you put on the best, we’ll turn up.”

Meninga, who retired at the end of the 1994 season, returned to Melbourne on four occasions as Maroons coach and was in charge of the Kangaroos when they played at AAMI Park in the 2017 World Cup and last year against the Kiwis.

“We’re never going to take over from Aussie Rules… but the Storm have been a great vehicle for our great game of rugby league, and they continue to be successful all the time," Meninga said.

"They’re one of the yardsticks of our competition. They do a terrific job in foreign lands.”

Like Meninga, Daley also returned to Melbourne to coach the Blues in 2015, facing off against his great friend and rival.

While he acknowledged that most Melburnians choose to support Queensland because of the city's rivalry with Sydney, Daley pleaded with the growing rugby league faithful in Victoria to give NSW a chance.

“New South Wales – I expect them to play some really good football,” Daley began.

“I know that Melburnians will gravitate towards Queensland but if they haven’t decided on who they support – because when Origin comes around, I just think everyone that watches it will support either/or - I’m just hoping the neutrals, or the ones that aren’t sure yet, might just jump on the [Blues] bandwagon."

Acknowledgement of Country

Melbourne Storm respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.