There are many reasons states across Australia lock horns – rugby league’s State of Origin series is a major battleground between New South Wales and Queensland, while arguments over the quality of coffee often divides the founding state and Victoria.
I’ve even heard arguments over beaches, climates, the size of towns and cities, the beer and food that is available, and any number of things that citizens across the borders feel aggrieved about.
For Oceanic Pro League fans, their state-against-state rivalry comes in the form of an end-of-year tournament, where the winner takes bragging rights and a wicked looking trophy in the League of Origin series.
For New South Wales, the overwhelming favourites heading into the competition, three teams stand in their way of glory in 2018 – Victoria, Queensland and New Zealand (ham-fisted into LoO to give those poor sods across the ditch something to do while they wait for the next All Blacks fixture to appear).
Being a New South Welshman, I had the privilege and honour to have a pre-tournament discussion with the state’s GM, and perhaps the greatest analytical mind the OPL has ever seen, Bryce “EGym” Paule, who didn’t mince words when it came to NSW’s Origin championship hopes: “We have no flaws in our team”.
“I was on the team in 2017 and I am definitely washed up at this point, so we’ve removed the key problem,” Paule laughed. “Now I just get to flame all the other teams on broadcast, instead of struggling around on the Rift.”
It’s a feeling echoed by veteran top laner and just all round great bloke Brandon “Swip3rR” Holland, who will be sharing time with the Dire Wolves’ champion top laner, Brandon “BioPanther” Alexander.
Swip3rR, who is now representing NSW for the second year in a row, believes the tournament is going to be “pretty easy”, especially after comparing the rosters of the four teams on offer.
“We have the best roster across the board, and we have the most finalists in one team heading into the comp – me, Destiny, Triple and BioPanther were all in the grand final just gone and I don’t think any of the other teams come close,” Holland said.
“For example, the Victorian team has two players that came fourth place two splits in a row, so if we can avoid shitting the bed this time around we’re just going to have an easy time, in all honesty.”
The Boys In Blue
EGym: What hasn’t been said about BioPanther, coming into the split he was a rookie and he’s already proven his talent and worth.
The charming rookie of the OPL, and loved by anyone who has ever watched a game in the Australian league – or even just those that have seen his picture to be honest – the first of the team’s two champion Brandons comes into LoO after a scorching 2018 domestic season.
EGym: Dossy – Big Swips – has got a good head on his shoulders, and leadership qualities are definitely necessary for a team of misfits that are learning to play together, so he’s going to be massive in that regard.
The second Brandon to grace the best team heading into the tournament, ‘Big Swips’ has long been a name synonymous with top lane strength in the Oceanic Pro League, and his appearances in LoO 2018 will be no different – expect some of his favourite picks in the top lane once he’s unleashed.
EGym: Only is the wildcard coming into the team, he brings that flair and his champion pool options are great. When we surround him with leaders like Destiny and Swip3rR he will really come into his own.
Swip3rR: I think that Only has one of the biggest chances to just destroy teams, he showed that when he single-handedly took apart ORDER in the playoffs, that was basically just a one man effort.
While Only’s 2018 was a mixed one as a whole, the Legacy Esports’ jungler completely re-wrote his form in the tail end of Split 2, as the roster fought their way into the playoffs before dismantling Bombers and ORDER – mostly thanks to the red-hot form of Middleton. If Only can continue his streak of ascendancy in League of Origin, none will stand in his way.
EGym: It’s been proven he’s been the most consistent player in the entire region in 2018, and he’s just constantly been growing. He’s very clearly number one mid for the league in my eyes, and for anyone.
Fresh off the back of a learning experience at the 2018 World Championships in Korea, Triple will be hungry to remind Oceanic fans why he’s one of the best mid laners to have graced the Rift Down Under. For the former Dire Wolf, the state-contest may be a proving ground, and what better way to flex your muscles than wiping away two inferior states and a spare country.
EGym: He does this weird thing where he stands and clicks the Z button when he plays, and I used to do that when I played so I can confidently say he has the best mechanics in the tournament because of that. His mechanics are just through the roof.
Although 2018 Split 2 didn’t end in a fashion ORDER were expecting, two third place finishes for the southern-based organisation was still a strong campaign overall, and at the heart of their triumphs was an even stronger New South Welshman – FBI. The Victorians may not be pleased to realise they were carried by someone north of the border, and will be even less pleased when he styles on them come League of Origin.
Swip3rR: There’s so much comfort in the bot lane because they both play very similar, and Destiny has that leadership quality that is great. He and FBI have already come together and are just going to be unstoppable.
New South Wales’ last – but certainly not least – member for the 2018 roster probably encapsulates the squad’s ambitions heading into the tournament: it’s the best state’s destiny to lift the trophy in 2018, and Shaw will be looking to help guide the team to that end-game goal.
Know Thy Enemy
Heading into the teams across the Rift, EGym and Swip3rR continued their confidence, and frankly I have to agree with them – taking a peek at the wraps for the other three rosters, they all rate NSW as the big bad wolf ready to gobble them up in the grand final.
While there’s fear and concern running rife amidst the other three camps, NSW knows that the trophy is theirs for the taking, and all they have to do is reach out and sweep the other three teams out of the way.
Although the Victorian team may rank highest on the list of small threats NSW face, EGym believes the “massive egos” surrounding the team, state and even the city of Melbourne itself are going to be a tripping point for the squad.
“Melbourne’s egos are just blowing up, and I blame Spawn because he’s just been feeding that fire from the start and it’s going to explode in their faces,” Swip3rR added. “Like I said earlier, they have a lot of players from the bottom four teams across the board, and they just don’t match up to the amount of championship players we have.”
Conversely, Queensland proved even less of a threat for the opposite reason – “there’s way too many rookies in that team and they’re still getting used to playing, let alone playing together. There’s no threat there any time soon.”
Swip3rR agreed with EGym’s analysis, once again pointing to “the need for championship talent”.
“They’re mainly players that haven’t been in the finals and above all else I rate players by their ability to get into the grand final and win the league, so I haven’t really given them much thought.”
And finally, speaking of not giving squads much thought, when I reminded them New Zealand were competing as well EGym simply replied “who?”, while Swip3rR admitted NSW “hadn’t even been thinking about them at all”.
So really, there you have it. Confidence oozes out of the NSW camp, running as rich as the fear that has been spreading from Victoria, Queensland and that spare squad added to make up numbers.
There’s been rumblings recently that esports is moving away from Sydney, and Melbourne has been baying for months that MEO was the greatest thing since caramel lattes from Little Bourke Street, but we know differently, and NSW has winning in its veins.
When it comes to victory, the League of Origin trophy is going to be returning to the home and heartland of the Oceanic Pro League, the first and best state – New South Wales.