PANTHER TALES | State of Origin

State of Origin football, established in 1980, is as brutal a theatre as rugby league (and arguably sport in general) can provide. No quarter is given as battlelines are drawn along state lines, as the states of New South Wales and Queensland go toe to toe for three brutal encounters each year to see who will be crowned the best rugby league state in Australia.

And the Panthers have played their part in having players participate in these spectacles.

But it is worth going back to pre-Origin days, just briefly. Prior to the advent of State of Origin, there was an annual interstate series, however, it was based on residency rules. This meant a lot of Queensland born players actually played for New South Wales as they played in the Sydney premiership, which included Penrith.

In the pre-Origin era, just the two Penrith players were selected for New South Wales. The first was Grahame Moran who was selected in Game 3 of the 1970 series, scoring a try in their 34-8 win at the Sydney Cricket Ground, but was not selected for the final match, and in subsequent series.

The second player was Kevin Dann, who was selected at fullback for the second match of the 1980 series. It was as an injury replacement for the incumbent NSW fullback Graham Eadie, who returned for Game 3 – as an experiment, the selection criteria was changed, in which it was based on the state of birth rather than on residency rules, and hence was the first ever State of Origin match. However just like Moran a decade earlier, this was his solitary appearance in the sky blue jumper.

The first ever Penrith player selected in a State of Origin series was Brad Izzard for New South Wales in 1982. It was a fast ascent to representative honours, only having made his first grade debut for Penrith in the opening round of the 1982 season, and was selected after only 12 first grade matches. Coming off the bench as a replacement, he crossed for a try in their 20-16 win at Lang Park. He played the two other matches on the wing. Injuries and form meant that his next match was not until the 1991 series, once again off the bench.

Darryl Brohman, a clever ball playing forward who had been recruited from Brisbane Norths and debuted with Penrith in 1979 earned selection for Queensland in the 1983 series. However, his debut match would be dramatically cut short courtesy of a broken jaw sustained in a Les Boyd tackle, which also ended his season for Penrith. After two seasons at Canterbury, his return to Penrith in 1986 saw him earn a second Queensland jumper.

Royce Simmons was selected for New South Wales in the 1984 series, selected in Games 2 and 3 as the starting hooker. Whilst he would be overlooked for the 1985 series, he would return for the 1986 series – and would provide the catalyst for him to later become the first Panthers player selected for Australia later in the season. Over four series to 1988, he made 10 appearances for the Blues.

The Panthers emergence as a premiership heavyweight in the late 1980s coincided with an increased presence in the representative arena – a total of five players would represent New South Wales local juniors Greg Alexander, John Cartwright and Mark Geyer made their debuts, whilst veteran forward Peter Kelly was finally rewarded and Chris Mortimer made a return after three years. A sixth player, Alan McIndoe, ran out for Queensland.

In 1990, only Alexander would return to Origin, but that year saw the debut of Brad Fittler, who would be selected for Game 2 on the bench. McIndoe would be selected for Queensland again.

1991 saw the return of Geyer and Cartwright, joining Alexander and Fittler for New South Wales. Whilst not known at the time, it would be Geyer’s final series in Origin, and was involved in one of the most iconic moments in Origin history, with his battle with Wally Lewis in Game 2. It would also be Alexander’s last appearance in an Origin series – but not for New South Wales.

In 1992, the Panthers still were contributors through Cartwright and Fittler, with Steve Carter given a shot off the bench in Game 2, but that would be his solitary appearance.

By 1993, Fittler had established himself in the representative football arena and was a regular selection. Joining him in that series as well as 1994 was Graham Mackay.

The outbreak of the Super League / ARL war in April 1995 preceded the Origin series – with the series administered by the ARL (Australian Rugby League), they only allowed players who chose to remain loyal with the ARL to be selected. Whilst Penrith as a club had chosen to align with Super League, there were still a number of players in the Panthers squad that had signed with the ARL. One of those was Fittler, who was also appointed captain. Matt Sing, who had made his first grade debut at Penrith in 1993 and had established himself in the Panthers backline was selected for Queensland. Both would leave Penrith at the end of 1995, but would both establish themselves as mainstays for their relevant states for the next decade – Fittler would finish up in 2004 with 31 matches for the Blues, whilst Sing finished up in 2005 with 25 matches for the Maroons.

With the war still raging in 1996, the ARL allowed Super League aligned players for selection, but for the first time since 1985, Penrith had no representation in the series.

With the two competitions running in 1997, the Super League ran a Tri-Series, which involved New South Wales, Queensland and New Zealand in a round robin format, with the top 2 teams playing off in the final. These matches are not officially recognised by the ARL as representative matches, as the ARL still ran a State of Origin series that year, with only players in the ARL competition eligible for selection.

However, that aside, Penrith had 4 players selected that season, all for New South Wales – Greg Alexander making a return to the representative scene after a 6 year absence, as well as Matt Adamson, Ryan Girdler and boom rookie Craig Gower.

The reunification of the two competitions for 1998 saw the return of State of Origin as the standalone interstate series. A number of players from the Super League teams earned selection in the Origin teams, although, none of them would be from Penrith.

However, in 1999, two members of the 1997 Super League NSW team made their debuts in Origin – Craig Gower was selected at hooker, whilst Ryan Girdler was selected at centre but was shifted to the bench in Game 1. Gower featured only in Game 1 whilst Girdler played in all three matches of the series.

Craig Greenhill, who had made his Origin for Queensland debut in 1996 whilst at Cronulla, returned to the team in 1999 in the first of his three seasons at Penrith.

Girdler and Greenhill would return in the 2000 series, but their roles contrasted. Greenhill was selected for just Game 3, coming off the bench, whilst Girdler played in all three matches – he scored 32 points in the 52-10 annihilation in Game 3 (3 tries and 10 goals), and finished with 52 points in the series – both still records more than two decades later.

2001 saw the return of Gower alongside Girdler for New South Wales, with Matt Adamson also earning selection for Games 2 and 3. This would be the final series for Girdler and the solitary one for Adamson, whilst Gower would return in 2004, being selected for one match, and returning in 2005 and 2006.

2002 saw no representation from the Panthers across both squads, whilst in 2003 Scott Sattler made his debut (and solitary appearance) for Queensland in the final match of the series.

The premiership triumph in 2003 saw a number of players selected for the 2004 series – for New South Wales, joining the returning Gower were debutants Luke Lewis, Luke Rooney and Trent Waterhouse, whilst for Queensland Ben Ross and Rhys Wesser played in all three matches. With a total of six players, this was their best representation, surpassing the 1989 series.

Carrying over into the 2005 series, Rooney (alongside Gower) retained their spots for the Blues whilst Ross returned for the Maroons.

Both Lewis and Waterhouse would have to wait until 2009 to return to the Origin squad – Lewis would remain a regular part of the New South Wales team until 2014 whilst Waterhouse would make his final appearance in the 2010 season.

2006 saw Gower in his final series for the Blues, whilst Wesser returned for one match in 2006.

For the first time in five years, the 2007 series saw no players selected from Penrith.

The arrival of Petero Civoniceva in 2008 saw the Panthers sign a forward who had been a regular selection for Queensland since 2001, and was selected for the Maroons for all four seasons he was at Penrith until 2011. He would be the only player flying the flag for Penrith in that series.

2009 saw the return of Lewis and Waterhouse for the Blues, as well as the selection of Michael Jennings. Jennings would be a regular selection until the 2016 season – in his final season at Penrith in 2012, he had been dropped to Windsor in the NSW Cup for disciplinary reasons, however, he was still seen as one of the best two centres for New South Wales and was still selected.

In 2010, the Panthers would supply five players – Civoniceva for Queensland, Lewis, Waterhouse and Jennings for New South Wales, and joining those three for the Blues was Michael Gordon, who was being rewarded for an outstanding season at Penrith, playing in Game 3.

2012 saw the debut of Tim Grant – from the kick off, he took for the first hit up and ran straight at former team mate Civoniceva, who had returned to Brisbane.

2013 saw a number of now ex-Panthers continue playing (Lewis and Jennings), but would be the start of a four season stretch in which no Penrith players were selected.

This drought was broken in 2016 with debutants Matt Moylan and Josh Mansour, whom both played in all three matches. However, neither would retain their spots for 2017, where once again no Penrith players were selected.

The good start to the 2018 season by the Panthers was rewarded with four selected for the Blues – debutants Nathan Cleary, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Tyrone Peachey, and new recruit James Maloney who had already made nine appearances previously, debuting in 2013. With the exception of Campbell-Gillard (who would miss Games 2 and 3 through an injury suffered playing for Penrith after Game 1), they would become members of the Blues breakthrough series victory, being only their second in 13 series.

2019 saw the retention of Maloney and Cleary, with the Penrith halves combination transplanted to the Blues, and was deemed a success with the Blues recording their first back to back series wins since 2004/2005.

The COVID interrupted season of 2020 saw the Origin series moved to November, after the premiership season. The Panthers, who were minor premiers and runners up were rewarded with a number of players in both squads, with a size of 27 players in each, necessitated by the health requirements for a bubble during the series. Cleary retained his spot, whilst Stephen Crichton, Jarome Luai and Isaah Yeo were selected for the Blues, whilst Kurt Capewell was named for Queensland. Both Yeo and Capewell debuted for their states, whilst Crichton and Luai missed out on selection.

However, in 2021, Luai made his debut – just like 2019, he was named alongside Cleary with the club halves combination once again replicated in the rep arena. Yeo also retained his spot, and also making their debuts for the Blues were Brian To’o, Liam Martin and Apisai Koroisau. In the first two matches, Penrith contributed 5 of the 17 players for New South Wales. Capewell also retained his spot for Queensland – but signed with the Broncos for 2022 and beyond midway through the series.

In 2022, all six Panthers that played for the Blues retained their spots in the squad. A seventh player was in the squad, with the return of Crichton and is in line to make his NSW debut in the opening match.

Page last updated 8 June 2022

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