Queensland Maroons ... Josh Papalii runs into the defence during a State of Origin training session.

Queensland Maroons ... Josh Papalii runs into the defence during a recent State of Origin training session. Photo: Getty Images

In 1980, a man punched another man in the head, and changed the world forever.

The puncher was Artie Beetson, and the punchee was his Parramatta teammate Mick Cronin, and the fact he was willing to throw the haymaker was proof that rugby league's State of Origin concept was a winner - players from the same club would be perfectly willing to rip into each other with gusto when wearing the jerseys of their home states.

Rugby league is a violent game, and being more compressed than AFL, less complicated than rugby union, and more likely to result in broken bones than soccer, it's a violence that suits the medium. 

Thirty-four years later, the concept remains powerful and compelling, and State of Origin 2014 Game One (Nine, 7.30pm) will spark a mass gluing to the TV, addicted to the superb small-screen product that is high-class rugby league.

New South Wales Blues ...  Robbie Farah and Tony Williams walk out for the  State of Origin training session.

New South Wales Blues ... Robbie Farah and Tony Williams walk out for the State of Origin training session. Photo: Getty Images

Origin has maintained its popularity and massive importance to rugby league fans despite eight long years of Queensland kicking sand in NSW's face, with another beating for the Blues likely this year. There are three basic reasons for this: the high standard of play; the fact that hope springs eternal; and the foundation of NSW-Qld rivalry in raw, visceral hatred.

If anything, the modern Maroon dominance has intensified this last factor: in years gone by there was an argument to be made that Queenslanders hated New South Welshmen a lot more than the reverse; but after eight long miserable years, the southerners have learned to hate, and hate well. If only they had the players.

State of Origin is among the greatest of televised sporting events, because it is the apogee of the drama that TV thrives on.

A fast, brutal, tense show of skill and athleticism, it features powerful athletes, tuned to the peak of physical fitness, honed with precision to the requirements of their profession, hurling themselves furiously into the fray with reckless disregard for their own safety, running on emotions that for 80 minutes are on the brink of spilling over into unsanctioned violence.

And even if they don't, the sanctioned violence is quite enough - rugby league is a violent game, and being more compressed than AFL, less complicated than rugby union, and more likely to result in broken bones than soccer, it's a violence that suits the medium so well you could imagine the game's 19th-century creators anticipated the invention of the TV, although they may have abandoned the idea if they'd anticipated Ray Warren.

My tip is Queensland, but god I hope I'm wrong.

For those gentler souls there's Walking Through History, (SBS1, 7.30pm) where Tony Robinson takes a ramble into the past, wearing out his shoe leather and bringing his Baldricky charm to the task of educating us all. This week, coincidentally, he is deep in rugby league heartland, trekking from the Liverpool Docks to Wigan Pier along Britain's longest canal to relive the heyday of the Industrial Revolution.