The first calls for a state of origin selection policy in interstate rugby football came before the schism between the union and league codes eventuated in Australia. In 1900 a journalist known as ‘The Cynic’ wrote in The Referee that star rugby player and recent immigrant to Queensland, Stephen Spragg, should be able to play for his home state of New South Wales.
Since the beginning of Australian rugby league in 1908, an interstate competition between Queensland and New South Wales has been conducted from time to time. Until 1979 each team drew its players from the clubs based in that state. No consideration was given to the origins of the players themselves.
The first of these interstate games was played at Sydney’s Agricultural Ground on 11 July 1908, before Queensland had even commenced its club competition. New South Wales easily accounted for Queensland in a 43–0 victory. The local media were unimpressed.
There can be no doubt the NSW men are improving a good deal… They cannot be blamed for the farce, for it was nothing else. If the Australian team depends on Queenslanders to strengthen it, one is afraid it will be found wanting. They are quite the weakest lot of footballers I have even seen come down from Queensland. The play needs no detailed description as it was simply a practice match for NSW, and certainly did not advantageously advertise the new game.
The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 July 1908
Apart from a golden period for Queensland in the 1920s, the interstate series was dominated by New South Wales. From 1922 to 1925 Queensland defeated New South Wales 11 times in 12 matches. At the end of the 1925 season a Kangaroo team was to be picked for touring Great Britain. Instead of announcing an Australian team dominated by Queenslanders, the Australian Rugby League Board of Control informed the media that the Rugby Football League had decided that the Kiwis would provide stronger opposition, and that there would be no Australian tour. The period spanning 1922 to 1929 saw no Australian team play in Great Britain, the only such hiatus outside the two World Wars.
The New South Wales dominance of interstate football increased after 1956 when gaming machines were legalised for all registered clubs in New South Wales. This provided New South Wales football clubs with a revenue source unmatched by Queensland clubs. From this time on an increasing number of Queensland players moved to the Sydney competition, becoming ineligible for Queensland state selection. Paul Hogan famously told a Queensland Rugby League gathering in 1977 that “every time Queensland produces a good footballer, he finishes up being processed through a New South Wales poker machine.”
Prior to 1956, Qld had won 25% of series played. From 1956–1981 this number dwindled to only 3.8% with only 1 series win, in 1959.