By BRAD GREENSHIELDS
IF you managed to avoid catching 'Origin Fever' last week when the first game of rugby league's State of Origin series was played, you may find it a little more difficult to avoid the bug this weekend.
The Legends of Origin Relay makes its way into Coffs Harbour on Friday, celebrating 25 years of Origin football as well as raising money for the Make a Wish Foundation.
The relay started in Cairns on May 10 and so far has raised just a shade under $300,000 as well as granting wishes to seven children battling illnesses.
Speaking from Ballina, Mario Fenech was like a boy in a lolly shop describing his feelings about catching up with old friends again.
"After football we all go our seperate ways to chase our careers and here I am with Gary Belcher and Andrew Ettinghausen and it's great because we don't get a chance to see each other often," said the former Blues' hooker.
"We rode our bikes in from Byron today and to see the beautiful coastline was really enjoyable.
"It was fantastic when we got to Ballina being escorted in by the police.
"Luckily we were on our bikes and not in the back of the wagon."
While happy to be catching up with old friends, Fenech realised the importance of the fund raising for Make a Wish that the relay was doing.
"When you have a league career it gives you a profile in the community and that gives you the opportunity to make a difference," said the 'Falcon'.
"In a way it just makes me grateful that I've got healthy children.
"The relay that we're all doing allows us in a small way to give something back."
Fenech played two games of State of Origin in 1989 and can't speak highly enough of the concept.
"Origin is a unique experience," he said.
"Growing up, playing Origin is what you strive for.
"Origin has become a legend. It's the highest standard you can play and it keeps getting better every year."
What did Fenech think of last week's extra-time nailbiter?
"I enjoyed the contest and in a way I'm glad Queensland won," he said.
"It looks like we'll get a series out of it as I'm confident NSW will bounce back and win game two."
The relay is due to reach the Big Banana at around 10am on Friday, before Gorden Tallis and Michael Buettner, among others, find their way to the Deep Sea Fishing Club for the Legends Lunch.
On Saturday, all events planned are free to the public.
From 9am, a host of Origin legends will be taking part in Junior Rugby League Day by attending the home grounds of Sawtell, Orara Valley and Coffs Harbour.
Noon will see all the legends in one place for a barbecue lunch at Advocate Park.
For kids wanting to get the full interactive experience on the weekend, the Coca-Cola Rugby League Road Train will be at Park Beach Plaza tomorrow from 4pm to 6pm and at Advocate Park all Saturday morning.
While Saturday morning is centred around the younger league fans in the area, Saturday evening is for the older demographic.
A Pub Shout kicks off from 5pm at the Ex-Services Club allowing footy fans to have a beer and a chat with some of the legends in town for the weekend-long festivities.
While all events on Saturday are free of charge to the public, members of the relay will be encouraging everyone to make a donation to the Make a Wish Foundation.
Sunday is a Golf Day at Bonville International Golf Club.