Artie Beetson juggernaut rolls on

Beetson in action for Eastern Suburbs in 1976. Photo: Fairfax Archive

Beetson in action for Eastern Suburbs in 1976. Photo: Fairfax Archive

Beetson in action for Eastern Suburbs in 1976. Photo: Fairfax Archive

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In life, Artie Beetson was a giant of the game. In death, he has become, in the words of brother Barry, a ”juggernaut”.

The Queensland league great, who died in 2011 aged 66, will have his No.11 jersey ”retired” at the first State of Origin on May 28, a match that will mark 100 interstate contests since the first clash at Lang Park in 1980.

Beetson captained the Maroons to victory that night, spawning the modern Origin concept. He could never have known that 34 years later, the rivalry would engulf the game and cast its shadow over the entire rugby league season.

As a mark of respect, no Queenslander will wear No.11 as the Maroons begin their quest for a staggering ninth consecutive series victory.

There was much fuss made as NRL boss Dave Smith and a host or Origin greats from both sides of the border launched the official countdown at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday.

The funny thing was, Barry said, that he doubted his brother would have even shown up if was still alive.

“A lot of people have asked me what he’d think, but I don’t actually know whether he would have come today. He was very low key. He didn’t have an ounce of vanity about him. But he had that great aura,” Beetson said.

The Beetson family has been humbled by the tributes to the ”Godfather of Origin” since his death. Beetson was a friend and mentor to Maroons coach Mal Meninga, while players such as Justin Hodges looked upon him as a father figure on and off the field.

Barry said his brother’s legacy had grown momentum in the past two years, and the gesture of ”retiring” his No.11 jersey was another touching moment for the family and Beetson Foundation.

“It’s a juggernaut, you could say. It’s been unstoppable since his death. He’s done more for league, I think, since his death. He did a lot when he was alive but it’s just the way things have gone,” he said.

“On behalf of the Beetson family, we’d like to thank the QRL and NRL for this honour. It’s just another accolade for him. It shows respect and recognition of the great man that he was.”

NRL chief executive Dave Smith said it was a fitting tribute for Beetson, whose legacy should live on through younger fans of the game.

“Arthur is the father of Origin and deserves to be recognised for his contribution to the concept,” he said. “When children ask why there is no No.11 for Queensland this year, their mums and dads will explain that the jersey belongs to Arthur Beetson.”

Meninga featured in several memorable Origin moments but rates playing in that first game, a 20-10 Maroons victory, as the standout.

“I can’t remember too much about the game, to be honest,” Meninga said. “But I just wanted to play well for Arthur.”

It all adds more fuel to the Queensland fire. For the Blues, who must win at least one game in Brisbane to break their drought, the hill only seems to get steeper.

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