I was astounded to read the headline that even the chairman of the Country Rugby League, Terry Quinn, was calling for the City v Country Origin game to be scrapped by the NRL. Surely this fixture, a clash played outside of the major metropolitan areas, is just what the game of Rugby League needs?
Reading on in the article, Quinn’s argument was not so much an issue with the fixture itself, but with clubs pulling players out of the clash, ruining the spectacle for the rural fans that attend the match.
Furthermore, Quinn raised the argument that it would be better for the bush if the clubs were made to play more club fixtures in rural areas. It is a case hard to argue with as a result of line ups for the all NSW representative game seemingly weakening each year.
Looking back to the past, the City v Country was best known for highlighting the cases of potential Origin players for NSW, giving the coach a look in at who was producing in a fiercer contest than club football, with the best NSW rugby league players coming up against each other.
Fast forward to now, and it is more common that the players who feel safe in their chances for Origin, take the Representative weekend to rest up, leaving the City v Country clash a less entertaining fixture.
As a boy from the bush, I use to take the clash very seriously. I hated City almost as much as I hated the Queenslanders. I was always devastated when the City slickers won the annual clash, hoping the Country boys would upset their more privileged counterparts. Growing up in Gunnedah, just 45 minutes away from where the City- Country clash takes place on Sunday, sport was my life and I was not alone. Local domestic competitions were always well stocked with teams, people turning out to play their sport with heart and passion, knowing it was an honour to be able to do so.
The local sporting teams playing surrounding towns in local fixtures is well attended, how much more so can the country be inspired by national sporting stars. Too watch NRL games, we drove for hours but the trip was always worth it.
Some metropolitan teams have fans that refuse to travel across town.
Perhaps this privilege of growing up in the city is part of the problem. Looking at the team lists for this weekend’s clash in Tamworth, the strength in the Country side far outweighs that in the City line-up, with the metropolitan side having had players the likes of Adam Reynolds, Josh Reynolds, Lachlan Coote and Matt Moylan all withdraw from the game. Blake Austin was another potential that has pulled out, though his battling with a hamstring injury gives him some accountability.
Don’t get me wrong, I know there are many people residing in the metropolitan areas that love their Rugby League, and with the majority of Australians living in these areas, they deserve the majority of games. They do, however, not deserve a monopoly.
Quinn’s request isn’t for country rugby league to take over, it is for country rugby league to be supported in order to thrive. Both the NRL and its players need to start taking their responsibility to the growth of the game in Australia seriously, and this includes to the rural areas.
Quinn is unsurprisingly disappointed in the player’s lack of support for the country fixture.
“I wouldn’t say I’d be happy the City-Country game would die, but that would be the compromise, and it has to be at no expense to the country areas,” Quinn said.
“You can make a real difference being [in the country areas] for a few days.”
In the now famous words of a young girl on a taco advertisement, “why not both?”
The City-Country fixture should not be scrapped, it should be taken more seriously. Clubs should not be the ones that make the call on whether a player can be withdrawn from the annual clash, rather they lodge withdrawal requests to a representative, who is impartial to the clubs or the fixture, ensuring the best players available are playing, not just the ones who can be bothered.
But to grow the game, Quinn’s assertion that regular club football also be played in the bush should also be planned. If all teams took one fixture away from their metropolitan areas and to the bush, sixteen games are played in rural areas without too much inconvenience and the bush is exposed to the stars that they love.
The NRL is pushing for clubs to take games away from suburban grounds to pump up their financial coffers, but they should first be making sure they grow their playing stocks, and give Australians from all areas a chance to experience the competition they so freely give to the cities, and perhaps unearth future NRL stars from all walks of life.
Terry Quinn is not campaigning for the loss of City-Country. He is campaigning for the growth of rural rugby league. It is an argument the NRL can only ignore at its own peril.