Victoria pose for their victory photo during the 2020 State of Origin for Bushfire Relief match. Picture: AFL Photos

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IN THE middle of the third term of Friday night's State of Origin for Bushfire Relief clash, the sold-out Marvel Stadium crowd whipped up a Mexican wave. That wouldn't usually be noteworthy. Except this time, the players joined in.

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In an illustration of the spirit of the contest, as the wave made its way around the three packed tiers of the ground, six All-Stars players waited on the bench for a mass rotation – their eyes not on the field but focused on the stands. 


When it reached the interchange area - Richmond's Jack Riewoldt, Gold Coast's Lachie Weller and West Coast's Brad Sheppard among them – they raised their arms in unison with the crowd. This was a game with a bigger cause. 


In terms of the level of talent on display, we can probably sum it up with this: Marcus Bontempelli had to start on the bench.

In fairness, the Victorian starting midfield contained Patrick Dangerfield, Trent Cotchin and Scott Pendlebury, so it was difficult to displace any of that trio. Even Dustin Martin was pushed forward, such was the strength of the onball division.

Patrick Dangerfield tries to escape the clutches of Michael Walters. Picture: AFL Photos

Alas, the Western Bulldogs superstar and new captain was on the ground soon enough, with rotations no issues in the exhibition. Alongside him starting on the pine were Andrew Gaff, James Sicily and Josh Kelly, while the All-Stars opted to start Elliot Yeo, Shane Edwards and Taylor Walker off the field.

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The gathering of the biggest (available) names in the competition was the centerpiece of football's response – and assistance – to the bushfires that ravaged the country in recent months.


The League, its clubs and players had already announced a donation of $2.5 million, but the return of representative football for the first time since 2008 whetted the appetite of fans. For one night only, football had its own Harlem Globetrotters, full of high-flyers, sharp goals, silky skills and even a torpedo.

That the Big V won, charging home in the last quarter to run over the All-Stars, was largely insignificant for the fans, who saved one of the biggest cheers of the night to the firefighters and emergency service people who led out the sides and ran through the banner.

The clash was about highlights more than hard hits. Clearly, that approach was taken by the players and respective coaches, with a total of 39 goals kicked and only 72 tackles laid (for context, the Giants averaged 71 a game in last year's finals series).


Wings were left free, defensive running was nearly non-existent and the closest thing to congestion was on the streets of Docklands pre-game.

It was not a game played with the ferocity of legendary State of Origin battles, but it was also not far from the intensity of a regular pre-season game – with a level of fun thrown in.  

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Players paraded smiles rather than stares. During the pre-game national anthem, Dangerfield pulled out the 'power stance' made famous by his former team the Crows, with Adelaide skipper Taylor Walker on the All-Stars line-up. 

When Stephen Coniglio won a free kick for a high tackle for the All-Stars close to goal in the opening minutes, his Giants teammate but Victorian opponent Lachie Whitfield mocked him for lifting his shoulder to draw the free kick. Coniglio wrapped his arm around Whitfield before going back to take his shot.


Tom Papley said pre-game he wanted to play on Swans teammate Callum Mills, as he thought Mills would fly for marks while he could stay at ground level to mop up the crumbs. 

Papley was a star with five goals, while his prediction of a Mills screamer attempt was accurate: in the second term, the impressive defender leapt over Papley in a huge fly, but couldn't bring the ball down with him.

Callum Mills flies high for a spectacular marking attempt. Picture: AFL Photos

As was the mood of the night, it drew laughs afterwards. Even when Bontempelli failed to evade Patrick Cripps and was caught holding the ball, Cripps emerged with a grin. 


Such was the speed of the game and class of the ball movement that it became easy to forget that these friends are generally foes.

In one All-Stars passage, Isaac Smith handballed to Brodie Grundy, who passed to Luke Breust, who kicked to Jack Riewoldt, who chipped to Michael Walters, who snapped a major. It was efficient, tidy and selfless, with players clearly going out of their way to get others involved.


The small forward combination of Breust, Charlie Cameron, Walters and Betts was irresistible, proving more valuable than the twin towers of Jeremy Cameron and Tom Lynch for the Vics. 

But the Damien Hardwick-coached Victorian line-up roared home. Their win was all but secured when, early in the final term, Jade Gresham gathered in the forward half, handballed to Martin, who offloaded to Bontempelli, who booted the goal from close range. We won't see that happen again.