MELBOURNE, Australia -- It was the shot in the arm footy fans wanted and needed.
'State of Origin', at least from a Victorian perspective, was finally back, in front of a packed crowd of 51,052 at Marvel Stadium and on television screens across the country.
Stars from all 18 clubs descended on Melbourne for a wonderful exhibition of Australian Rules; a fast-flowing, attacking brand of footy was played, satisfying the rabid appetite for representative football. At home, fittingly it was Victoria who took the chocolates, coming back from five goals down to run out 46-point winners.
But as sharp as the skills were, and as high-quality as they play was, 'State of Origin' in this form shouldn't be the annual spectacular that many are calling for.
There were, of course, moments of brilliance. Blistering passages of play and elite transition from defence to attack was on show in a first half which was engrossing, if a little bruise-free. Just 72 tackles were counted throughout the encounter - normally what one side might tally in a typical AFL match.
But noticeably absent was the primal atmosphere that many yearn for. Sure, when Dustin Martin turned on a dime in the forward pocket, shaking his opponent before snapping a trademark goal, the crowd roared its approval, but a low dull roar was a constant throughout the encounter - fans were happy chatting away as the league's best hit pinpoint passes and flew for hangers.
Even when the Victorians took charge, and after the Mexican wave made its way around the stadium a few times, the fans started to file out of the stadium, satisfied from what they'd seen from the AFL's stars through three and a bit quarters.
It was, plainly, as advertised; a bushfire relief match, an exhibition which helped raise much-needed money for the people and communities affected by Australia's summer of devastation. And that's okay.
Players have of course said they love the idea of a State of Origin. Some have come out and advocated for it to be an annual fixture. But like us in the stands, they too are swept up in the nostalgia. For many, it'll be the only time they'll pull on the Big V, or in the case of the All Stars, the white and gold.
It will get tired - especially if it continues to only take place in Melbourne. Even if it shifted elsewhere, would South Australians rally around an all-white amalgamation of the 'rest-ofs'? Can those in Perth fill their 60,000 seat stadium?
Where a lot of the public support came from was, of course, Victoria. There aren't many other things in this state that elicit such a primal response than seeing the Big V -- sans sponsors on the back of the jumper -- in full flight. Less endearing to purists is the all-white outfit of the All-Stars, despite the plethora of champions on every line. Perhaps things would be different if South Australia or Western Australia was involved.
Romantics will always try to advocate for this to be an annual fixture, but it's Matthew Lloyd's suggestion of every four years that would be more appealing for all involved and should be worth looking at. Perhaps it could even be extended to every five or even ten years. That way, enough time passes to once again build the hunger and the nostalgia.
There's also not much room on the calendar for an annual match, or, if the other states are to truly be represented (which they should), a handful of matches every year. As we saw on Friday night, preseason is probably the best spot for it, but multiple matches can't really be played. Understandably it won't happen in the midseason break, while the bye between the end of the home and away season is tricky; half of the competition's stars won't be involved as they'll be playing the very next week.
And getting the clubs to back an annual fixture (or fixtures) would be equally as difficult. While all players emerged unscathed on Friday night, coaches and teammates would have been biting their nails throughout the encounter.
One only has to remember Josh Fraser going down during the 2008 Hall of Fame Tribute match between Victoria and the Dream Team at the MCG. He injured his PCL and was absent for five weeks, much to Collingwood's dismay.
Ultimately, the reason 'State of Origin' -- or to more adequately describe it, the bushfire relief match -- was successful is because it isn't an annual fixture. Any number of contemporary cliches fit the bill; 'absence makes the heart grow fonder', or 'treat them mean, keep them keen'. As smitten as we all are at the idea of an annual fixture or fixtures (to satisfy all states), it's hard to see it working, for any number of reasons.
And that's okay. Bring it out for special occasions. Don't oversaturate the market. It'll keep the fans hungry, the nostalgia ripe, and the players' desire to pull on the Big V alive.