Besides a handful of kick-and-giggles and EJ Whitten legends games, the iconic Big V jumper hasn’t been seen on a football field since the AFL axed State of Origin in 1999.
But there’s a team that’s earned the right to adopt Victoria’s beloved uniform, even if they play a completely different code.
After 23 seasons of pioneering rugby league in the Victorian capital, it’s time for the Melbourne Storm to revive the Big V.
When the Storm were forced to leave Melbourne last month due to the worsening COVID-19 situation in that city, the club added a small V carrying the text ‘Our home, Victoria’ to their jerseys — a little slice of the southern state while they were camped out on the Sunshine Coast.
But the NRL heavyweights deserve to be wearing a bigger one, much like this jersey designed by the excellent @bbsportsdesign on Instagram.
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@storm ‘Victoria’ jersey concept! With everything that is going on in Victoria at the moment I thought It would be a cool idea for the Storm to play in a one-off white V jersey! #yourstorm #melbournestorm #melbourne #storm #victoria #rugbyleague #jersey #design #nrl #telstrapremiership @iscsport
The Big V guernsey is sacred in Victoria. It screams state pride in fabric form. It’s as quintessentially Victorian as rubbish weather, pretentious laneway cafes or Bill Lawry’s nose.
And that’s precisely why the Storm ought to pinch it.
After all, what’s more Victorian than being despised by those north of the Murray River?
Roar Guru Andrew Sutherland nicely articulated this cross-border jealousy a few weeks ago.
There’s no doubt that Sydneysiders resent the Storm’s success, and project that spite onto everything from Craig Bellamy’s wrestle-happy control of the ruck to Cameron Smith’s equally masterful manipulation of the whistleblowers.
Sutherland questioned whether that animosity meant some in Sydney wanted the Storm dead. It should mean the complete opposite.
You cannot manufacture that kind of genuine ill feeling — the type of unvarnished passion that’s the lifeblood of a successful sporting competition.
Just ask the A-League, a competition sleepwalking to the scrapheap in an apathetic stupor. What the round-ball game would give to have the same deep-seated, decades-earned emotion coursing the veins of their increasingly sanitised domestic product, bereft of narrative and interest.
You’d rather be called cheats and grubs than be called nothing at all because nobody cares.
The booing of Billy Slater on his 2018 grand final swansong, for example, might have been unseemly — but it was raw, real and reflective of the emotional buy-in that keeps a code ticking over.
That same tribalism — which, as hard as it is for rugby league fans to admit, is on another level in Melbourne’s AFL clubland — has also eroded Aussie rules’ claim to the Big V branding.
For all the hopeful Roar articles and throwaway comments from players who half-heartedly declare their interest in an interstate clash, clubs’ self interest — driven chiefly by coaches terrified of losing stars to injury — has killed any hope of an AFL State of Origin revival.
So if Dustin Martin and Patrick Dangerfield aren’t going to pull on the Big V, they may as well let Ryan Papenhuyzen and Cameron Munster wear it.
In 2020, the Storm are Victoria’s most unifying team.
There’s no AFL Origin side to barrack for in the state’s pet sport. State cricket is the preserve of only the keenest cricket tragics. The Melbourne Rebels’ place in whatever Super Rugby will look like next year is tenuous. A-League fans are split between three clubs. And any other sport sits on too small a scale.
The biggest team that represents all Victorians? The mob that’s been beating Sydney at its own game for the past two decades.
The Big V jumper hasn’t appeared in a full-blooded Origin since 29 May, 1999 — a few months before the Storm hoisted the Provan-Summons Trophy for the first time.
And after spending the subsequent 20 years populating their trophy cabinet in the name of the Victorian capital, they’ve well and truly earned the right to don the state’s most famous sporting symbol.