When it comes to memories of rugby league’s first dedicated representative weekend, Issac Luke running through Auckland Airport on Saturday is my favourite.
Here is a man who runs for a living, reduced to the same fast-forward commuter shuffle – headphones on, backpack bobbing – as the rest of us. Are those really legs the same ones that can power through two 120kg behemoths?
“Will Mr Waerea-Hargreaves, Mr Kearney and Mr Kenny-Dowall please come to the podium?” comes the announcement before the departure of QF 114, bound for Sydney from gate 16.
As it turns out, the flight had not even started boarding. “Bully” Luke had been running for nothing. And that’s the big question about the rep weekend, isn’t it? Was everybody running for nothing? Is the Anzac Test a worthwhile part of the calendar? Does City-Country really help NSW pick a team for Origin I?
Like this writer, ARL Commission chairman John Grant was at all three matches: Australia’s 20-12 win over New Zealand, the 18-14 success by NSW Under 20s against their Queensland counterparts and City’s 24-22 victory over Country.
Grant and his fellow commissioners hold the fate of the representative weekend in their hands. “You’d have to say this weekend’s been fantastic,” Grant told us on the ABC at Glen Willows in Mudgee.
“If you look at the Test on Friday night, the under 20s State of Origin game last night and this game, an NRL-free weekend seems to have worked really well for the players and for the whole promotion of it.
“(The Test) is the very pinnacle representative game for the players who play it. That’s number one. Number two, it’s very important for New Zealand in terms of promoting their game and also getting funds into their coffers.
“And number three, it’s the first rep game that kicks things off.”
Asked what the argument is for scrapping at least two of those games, Grant said: “I don’t think there is an argument. I think there’s a lot of discussion about what might happen to it. I don’t think there’s an argument for or against it. We’ll weigh up our options when we consider the schedule for next year over the next two to three months.”
Reading between the lines of Grant’s comments, the only change that might occur is the Test coming after State of Origin. That configuration was abandoned after Australia humiliated Great Britain 64-10 in 2002 – it was clear anyone playing Australia’s best, straight off a brutal Origin series, would be lambs to a particularly gory slaughter.
But if New Zealand has its own Origin series next year, as is being mooted, both sides would have similar preparations so that drawback would be somewhat eliminated.
NSW Country playing Queensland Country is an idea with some beauty. One, it keeps alive the Country jersey that clearly means so much to those who don it. Two, it equals out the workload between NSW and Queensland players. The idea, says ARLC integration manager Andrew Hills, “has come from Nathan McGuirk and the commercial department of the NRL.
“Management have put a number of things to the commission, which they are currently discussing.”
Under 20s Origin – a ratings winner and a social media favourite on Saturday – seems likely to stay no matter what. “I think it’s important, regardless of what other decisions are made, that this is still an important part of representative footy,” Hills told WLF at Centrebet Stadium.
As for how important City-Country is to the Blues, the man who did most to further his personal cause on Sunday, City halfback Mitchell Pearce, said this: “They’ve been saying it meant something today. I suppose, in the positions that are tight, it might mean something. I’m not too sure.”
Running for nothing? Mitchell Pearce will find out when the plane to Melbourne starts boarding.