Peter Sterling, Laurie Daley, Steve Roach, Royce Simmons, Glenn Lazarus, Ricky Stuart, Paul Harragon, Andrew Johns – ringing any bells? To take a step forward into more recent times, how about David Peachey, Luke Priddis, or Preston Campbell? Or, even more recently, Jamie Soward, Josh Dugan, James Maloney, Trent Merrin, and Jarrod Croker? Without a doubt, these are some of the most important names in rugby league, past and present. They are exceptional players, if a little divisive, and some have become the voices, coaches and characters of our game during or following their football career. They all have one thing in common – they played for Country.
City versus Country is the most debated game on the representative calendar. Each year, there is criticism heaped upon the concept, and players withdrawing due to dubious injuries. Last year, The Newcastle Herald declared the game a farce on this basis. I won’t argue that there aren’t improvements to be made to scheduling overall, but this is an issue of execution, not a valid criticism of the concept.
Why is it that we are so quick to dismiss City versus Country as irrelevant? The rivalry doesn’t reach anything near the fever pitch intensity of Origin, but not even international tests or the World Cup can hold a candle to such emotion, so why is City versus Country singled out as the least valuable match of all?
Of our sixteen NRL clubs, only four represent an area that could be remotely considered “country”, but anyone who knows league knows that a great proportion of our rugby league talent is sourced from the country. For decades, the expanse between Sydney and Melbourne has provided us with the players we love to watch – Wagga Wagga, Cootamundra and Junee have all contributed stars. If we expect this to continue, it is important that we acknowledge that legacy.
You’ll notice that most of the criticism leveled at City versus Country comes from city folk, who neither need or want the validation that is important to country rugby league. Until the country has more representation at club level, this match is an opportunity to pay homage to our greats both past, present and upcoming. There has been much talk from the administration lately about sustaining grassroots rugby league, and this is one way of doing so. Give City versus Country the respect it deserves, because without country rugby league, our game wouldn’t nearly resemble what it does today.