Country v City: true trial or tribulation?
Is City-Country a genuine NSW State of Origin trial? Maybe, just maybe, some lucky player earned himself a crack at the Maroons with a standout performance on Sunday. Plenty of decent efforts will go unrewarded as the incumbents are favoured, or NRL form over the start of the season is given greater weight during selections.
Regardless of whether the game counts for much in the Origin picture, two things make it worth keeping on the schedule.
One, country areas need to have access to elite football, as a means of keeping them directly in touch with the game and to inspire the next generation of kids to play rugby league by letting them see their heroes in the flesh, both on the field and at meet-and-greet events. Dubbo saw a sensational drawn game full of brilliant skill, with around 10,000 people braving conditions more akin to Alaska. They witnessed a wonderful advertisement for the sport.
Two, the match remains a great encouragement tool for young Origin aspirants. City fullback Matt Moylan was named players’ player for a blinder on his senior rep debut on Sunday and will no doubt be encouraged to lift his game that little bit further in pursuit of NSW honours, now he knows he can cut it at a higher level. Players like David Klemmer, Jack Wighton, Daniel Tupou, Dylan Walker and Michael Lichaa also showed some good stuff in the clash and will no doubt be in the mix for Blues jerseys in coming seasons, with a bit of rep experience already under their belts.
Country fullback Josh Dugan (ruled out injured for this year’s clash) is a recent example of a player who has used standout form in the game as a springboard to NSW honours. Boyd Cordner was so desperate to play in the Country back row last year that he did so with a busted shoulder. He starred, and played for the Blues and Kangaroos later in 2013.
The only downside of the match is that so many players (or clubs) don’t share Cordner’s enthusiasm, leading to a predictable string of withdrawals due to minor injuries that would never mean absence from an NRL game.
Get your ticket to NRL Round 9No tolerating slurred words
Less than a month after the NRL and other major Australian sporting codes announced a major offensive on homophobia, a NSW Under-20s player stands accused of delivering a disgraceful slur during Saturday’s clash with Queensland.
The matter is in the hands of the NRL Match Review Committee, with chief executive Dave Smith foreshadowing fines and bans once the offender is identified from what was very clear audio.
In what is the first test of the anti-homophobia policy, let us hope justice can be delivered swiftly and surely. There is no room for such moronic bigotry anywhere, including on a rugby league field.
NSW: It’s hard to see where he could fit in given the Blues are flush with centre options but big Jamal Idris is making a mighty case for a recall. The dreadlocked giant was sensational for Country on Sunday. City centre Will Hopoate made a strong fist of his return to the rep arena but is in the same boat as Idris. Country’s Jarrod Mullen narrowly won his five-eighth duel with City’s Josh Reynolds but the Bulldogs player certainly had more brownie points in the bank from his NRL form. Of most concern for Reynolds was his poor defensive read to allow Country flyer David Mead his second try – the error will add to the thinking that NSW coach Laurie Daley will want a stronger tackler (possibly John Sutton) for his Origin No.6.
Mead continued his sensational club form in the rep arena, though teammate James McManus also gave himself some chance of retaining his Blues wing spot with a strong game, while human skyscraper Daniel Tupou scored a freakish high-flying try in his double and may well be looked upon as an X-factor player worthy of a gamble. City props Andrew Fifita and Aaron Woods both had storming matches and look certainties, while Country back-rower Josh Jackson did his chances no harm. A handful of hopefuls – such as Beau Scott, Mitch Rein, Adam Reynolds, Tony Williams, Jorge Taufua, Aiden Tolman and Tariq Sims (injured) – were decent without putting their hands up with blinders.
In the Test, back-rower Boyd Cordner and centre Josh Morris performed admirably, while Paul Gallen was unstoppable carting the ball forward.
: Johnathan Thurston is in rep season mode, which should have plenty of Blues fans curling into the foetal position. The champion Kangaroos playmaker won his fifth man of the match award from his past six internationals in the Trans-Tasman Test, with a tremendous hand that steered the Aussies home – as he’s done so often for Queensland. Billy Slater and Darius Boyd continued their patchy form, though strong hands from Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Matt Scott and Greg Inglis would have been welcomed by Maroons fans. Slater needn’t worry anyway – Queensland coach Mal Meninga has confirmed the gun No.1 will be retained in his preferred position for Origin I. Bench options Daly Cherry-Evans and Matt Gillett didn’t get much of a chance to show their wares in green and gold but should be there with bells on come Origin time.
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A pat on the back for Stephen Kearney, the former Parramatta Eels boss who has enjoyed much better fortunes with the New Zealand Test team. While we may still be scratching our heads over omissions like top prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves for the Trans-Tasman Test, Kearney’s left-field selections did the Kiwi jumper proud with a stirring performance. Apparently he knew what he was doing, even if few else did.