Us Queenslanders have always looked upon the annual City-Country clash with some amusement. Although there is no doubt that we watch keenly to see who performs well and might come into consideration for New South Wales selection, there have never been too many of us getting too down when we see a player go down with injury and make themselves unavailable for State of Origin, because that’s one more NSW player we don’t have to worry about.
To be honest, with the speed of the game and its physicality these days, I don’t know if NSW really needs their top players to be putting their bodies through that anymore.
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As a Queenslander, I probably shouldn’t be saying this – but I think City-Country should be used solely as a way to blood up-and-coming players and give selectors a chance to see them play rep football, so they know who the next batch of players is that can step up.
They shouldn’t be picking any players that have played Origin before because I don’t know if it’s worth putting them through another 80 minutes’ worth of punishment on their bodies. If you’ve played Origin before, then the selectors already know whether or not you can handle it.
Obviously every player in the NRL wants to play rep footy, whether it’s for your country, State of Origin or City-Country. The young guys that have been given that opportunity this week would be over the moon and it’s a great reward for their efforts.
But the challenge today is that the week-to-week grind of the NRL is so demanding on players’ bodies that to be able to get themselves through a tough-and-torrid 80-minute performance on top of their regular NRL football can be too much.
Guys are going to come out of it jaded from the experience – the wear and tear of being part of a tough game and resuming normal NRL duties can be a difficult thing to experience. And that only intensifies if they are going to play three Origin games on top of that.
If we’ve learnt anything from the events of this week [injury withdrawals] it is that the City-Country concept again needs to be looked at.
I learned a long time ago to never underestimate the Kiwis. Friday night’s Test against Australia will be a huge challenge for them minus Benji Marshall, Jeremy Smith and Sonny Bill Williams but no doubt they will use that to their advantage and see it as a great opportunity to put one over the Aussies.
I’ve been in situations like this before where we were strong favourites but were beaten by New Zealand because they have no fear.
But there is a reason why they haven’t won an Anzac Test for 15 years when you look at the Australian side and, specifically, the presence of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston. It’s a huge bonus for a team when you’ve got that core group of players playing alongside one another that are so accustomed to doing so and their combinations are already formed.
While the Kiwis have a week to get it right, these four have been doing it for years at Origin level and in Test football as well. Having been a player and having the opportunity to work with those guys, I know just how easy they make it for the rest of the team. You know that you just have to get your job done and those guys will control and direct the team. There is a lot of comfort in knowing that. They are such influential players and when they are leading the way, football becomes a lot simpler.
The Kiwis have typically had more success later in the year because there is a greater opportunity to go into camp and familiarise themselves with each other and the style of play they want to go with. A week isn’t long enough for that, whereas for us it isn’t an issue because we’ve had pretty much that same core group of player for a number of years.
As I said, it is never wise to underestimate New Zealand but it will be extremely difficult for them against this Australian side given the circumstances. No doubt they will one day end their Anzac Day hoodoo – but let’s hope it doesn’t happen this week!