State Rivalry

From the early years of intercolonial cricket to modern football and rugby State-of-Origin matches, Australia has a history of fierce rivalries between state sides.

By Australian Sports Museum

Print, Victoria v New South Wales cricket match 1867 (1867)Melbourne Cricket Club

Intercolonial and interstate cricket

Cricket matches between the colonies attracted huge crowds and created fierce rivalries. 

Lithograph depicting Grand Intercolonial Cricket Match, 1858 (1858) by Henry GloverMelbourne Cricket Club

The first cricket match between two intercolonial sides was between players from the Launceston Cricket Club and the Melbourne Cricket Club in Tasmania, then Van Diemen's Land, in February 1851. The locals won by three wickets before a crowd of some 2500 people. A second match between Tasmania and Victoria was held at the Emerald Hill cricket ground in Melbourne in 1852, then occupied by the MCC. The Victorians won. The decider was not played until March 1854, with Tasmania winning at home.

Lithograph, Intercolonial Cricket Match - New South Wales v Victoria, March 1875 (1875)Melbourne Cricket Club

In 1856 the first clash between teams that would become powerhouses of Australian cricket took place on the MCG. The match between Victoria and New South Wales beginning on 26 March started a sporting rivalry between the two that reflected the colonies' changing relationships in terms of economic and political power.
New South Wales won the first encounter with Victoria by 65 runs. The next major match between the sides was in Sydney in January 1859, when Victoria won by two wickets before a crowd of 26,000 over three days.

Photograph of the Victorian cricket team - Intercolonial Cricket Match, Victoria v NSW, December 1894 (1894)Melbourne Cricket Club

Regular matches between Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales continued over the next decade before South Australia played and won its first intercolonial match against Tasmania at the Adelaide Oval in 1877-78.

Intercolonial Cricket honour boards, Victoria v New South WalesMelbourne Cricket Ground

Intercolonial cricket contests in the latter half of the 19th century were grand affairs attracting tens of thousands of spectators. These cricket honourboards at the Melbourne Cricket Ground commemorate matches held at the ground.

Intercolonial Cricket honour boards, Victoria v New South WalesMelbourne Cricket Ground

Intercolonial cricket in the nineteenth century contributed to the emergence of shared state and national identities, prior to Federation in 1901. One of the earliest Australian sporting teams was that made up of the intercolonial cricketers who represented Australia in the first Test match against England in 1877.

Bust, Lord Sheffield (1902)Melbourne Cricket Club

English teams began touring Australia from 1861, playing matches against the colonial sides before substantial crowds. In 1891-92 the English team led by W.G. Grace toured Australia to great local interest. The Earl of Sheffield was the promoter of the English team and at the end of the tour he donated £150 to fund a trophy for an annual tournament of intercolonial cricket.

Photograph of Victorian XI, Jan 1891 (1891)Melbourne Cricket Club

The Sheffield Shield tournament began in 1892-93 as a competition between New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, with Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania joining later.

Today the Sheffield Shield competition carries on the traditional rivalries between the states.

Rugby League State of Origin Series Poster - Queensland Team (1995)Australian Sports Museum

Rugby League 

Considered by many to be the pinnacle of the game, the annual National Rugby League State of Origin series between Queensland and New South Wales is one of the most highly anticipated annual sporting events in Australia.

Programme for Rugby League State of Origin match, MCG 8 June 1994Australian Sports Museum

The annual three-game Rugby League State of Origin series between the New South Wales Blues and the Queensland Maroons is one of the highlights of the Australian sporting calendar and is considered one of the greatest rivalries in Australian sport.
Inaugurated in 1980, the series is played before huge crowds, with the host stadium usually selling out, and with millions more tuning in to broadcasts of each match.

Handbill, Rugby League State of Origin - MCG, 11 Jun 1997 (1997)Melbourne Cricket Club

The first two seasons of interstate league matches saw players selected for state teams based on where they were playing at the time. This was changed in 1982 to reflect each player's state of origin, which helped give rise to the intense rivalry we see today.

Coaster, Rugby League State of Origin 1994 (1994)Australian Sports Museum

Fans of NSW and Queensland sometimes refer to each other's teams pejoratively as the "Cockroaches" and "Cane Toads", following a 1980's advertising campaign which caricatured them as pest species. State of Origin transcends state boundaries, with fans around the country supporting the teams.

Victorian football guernsey, worn by Justin Madden in 1995 State of Origin (1995)Australian Sports Museum

Australian football state rivalries

Interstate rivalries have been a signature part of Australian football for much of the game's history.

Reproduction photograph of Victoria v South Australia football players, 1887 (1887)Australian Sports Museum

Interstate rivalries have been part of the story of Australian football since the first matches between colonies were played in 1879. Today each football-playing state has its own league and prior to the commencement of the Australian Football League in 1990, interstate games and State of Origin matches were huge sporting events that pitted the best players against one another.

Black and white action photograph, South Australia v Victoria football matchAustralian Sports Museum

The Victorian Football League was always the biggest, drew the largest crowds, and was the best funded league. However, the South Australian National Football, the Western Australian Football League, and the Tasmanian Football League all produced exceptional players and fierce contests and had strong football traditions of their own.

Photograph of New South Wales football team, 18 August 1923 (1923)Australian Sports Museum

Intercolonial and interstate games were played from 1879 when the first match was held between Victoria and South Australia.

Tasmania, New South Wales and Queensland also had teams and New Zealand participated in the competition from 1889 until the Golden Jubilee of Australian Football in 1908.

Photograph of Victorian Representative Football Team, 16 June 1928 (1928)Australian Sports Museum

From 1908 until the advent of State of Origin football in the 1970s the states competed every three years in the Australian National Football Carnival. Victorian dominated competitions in this period winning 15 of 17 carnivals.

Photograph of VFL Representative Team, 26 June 1948 (1948)Australian Sports Museum

The strength of the Victorian league, particularly the way it attracted the best players, helped foster the interstate rivalry between the states and made games competitive and fiery affairs.

In particular, South Australian footballers and administrators resented the dominance of Victorian sides.

Cartoon, "Crow Eaters at the MCG Sat" by Wells c1962 (1962)Australian Sports Museum

South Australian player Neil Kerley helped set the tone for the interstate rivalry in a match between the sides in 1963.
Kerley was incensed at comments from Richmond great, Jack Dyer, who when asked what he would do if he was coaching Victoria, said “I’d give them a pep talk and go to the races”. Kerley used this as motivation to fire up his team mates who went on to win a spiteful match, that saw Kerley sent off.

Poster, "Cheer the Big V" (1989)Melbourne Cricket Club

State of Origin football was introduced in 1977. Games held in the 1970s and 80s drew huge crowds to see the best players battle for state supremacy. Victoria, known as the “Big V”, was the powerhouse and players were inspired by the likes of “Mr Football”, Ted Whitten, one of the game’s greatest ever players and a passionate advocate of state of origin football. From 1985 until 1999 the best Victorian player in a State of Origin match was awarded the E.J. Whitten Medal.

Poster, 1995 State of Origin - Victoria vs South Australia (1995)Australian Sports Museum

The commencement of the AFL as a national competition in 1990 saw a decline in the relevance and prestige of state of origin football. With sides from South Australia, Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland participating in the league, crowds began to decline. The risk of injury to players also meant clubs were reluctant to let their best players participate and the State of Origin series stopped in 1999.
A one-off state based game was held in 2008, to celebrate 150 years of football. The AFL Hall of Fame Tribute Match, played between Victoria and an all-stars Dream Team, saw the “Big V” triumph by 17 points.

Black and white photograph of a match between Victoria and South Australia, during the 1947 Claxton Shield national baseball championship. (1947)Australian Sports Museum

Claxton Shield

Baseball has been played in Australia since before Federation and the states first vied for the Claxton Shield in 1934.

Victorian Baseball Team and Officials (1949)Australian Sports Museum

The Claxton Shield was named after South Australian all-round sportsman, Norrie Claxton, who set up the interstate tournament and donated the trophy in 1934. Claxton was an inaugural inductee into the Baseball Australia Hall of Fame in 2005.

Victorian State Baseball team and officials, with arms up (1947)Australian Sports Museum

South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria were dominant in the early decades of the tournament, before close competitions of the 1950s saw each state capital hosting the event on at least one occasion, and Western Australia breakthrough for their first victory.

Victorian baseballer Brian Harvey achieving a double put-out in training (1961)Australian Sports Museum

By the 1960s South Australia had returned to prominence, winning their third shield in 1959, after a 24-year drought. They would win eight more in the years to 1971, on the back of the pitching arm of star, Neil Page. Page was one of the most successful pitchers in Australian baseball and was named as starting pitcher in the 75th Diamond Anniversary Claxton Shield All Stars team.

Programme, Australian Baseball Championship Carnival - Claxton Shield Series - Adelaide 1961 (1961)Australian Sports Museum

Victoria was the most successful state in the Claxton Shield, winning 22 of the 74 tournaments they contested. South Australia and Western Australia have each held it 15 times.
Today, teams competing in the Australian Baseball League play for the Claxton Shield which is awarded to the winner of the ABL’s Championship Series.

Print, "First Victorian Eleven" 1859 (1859)Melbourne Cricket Club

Interstate rivalry has been at the heart of Australian sporting culture. Prior to Federation in 1901, intercolonial cricket and football played a unifying role among the states, with the shared sporting traditions contributing to the development of a national identity.

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