It’s been over 100 years since the inaugural Country v City match back in 1911, with traces of games between the official league and a combined Country team going as far back as 1886. The annual affair acts as a representative trial for the NSW Origin team, and despite claims of an identity crisis from some sections of the media, it has always been the most significant game of the season for the Country players who are selected.
Country rugby league has long been seen as the lifeblood of rugby league in this nation. The annual Country v City match acts as a celebration of grassroots football all across NSW, as Sydney’s best take on the finest from the bush. In 2012 52,519 players were registered to play rugby league in the country, and 29% of NRL players who took the field in 2012 played for a junior club in CRL competitions. When you throw in the players from other states across the country and other countries around the world that supply players to the NRL, the fact almost a third come from the country region explains just how this game brings the NRL back to its roots.
For a player such as Michael Ennis, the game allows him to reflect on his roots in Coffs Harbour, where his rugby journey began, and represent that area with pride. The same goes for Michael Gordon from Cooma, a player who has spent the majority of his life in the city but never forgets where he came from.
And while it has a long and storied history, the concept was played under heritage rules until 1987. Much like State of Origin revived the battle between states, the move to Origin rules revived a thriving country area and added renewed passion to the plethora of country players who have made their way to the big smoke and succeeded. In the years since this change there have been 23 clashes, with City winning 13, Country 9, and one draw.
The game has now become an integral part of the development of NSW State of Origin players, as many spend their first week away in a representative camp.
For Country, this week is the celebration of what each region of the state has brought to the game. In Coffs Harbour this year the Country squad and coaching staff, many of whom are stars of the past, will spend the week not only preparing for the game but also exploring the community and giving the locals a taste of the NRL.
For the City team, it is a chance to come together as a group and prove to many people that Country don’t have a mortgage on passion for one's heritage. With the game moved amongst country centres each year, the City boys don’t have the opportunity to connect with their community and heritage as much, but they still have the important job of representing the ‘big smoke’ with distinction.
There is no better time than Sunday afternoon footy to celebrate the roots of country football. BCU International Stadium hosts the game and, in a throwback to the grassroots of the game, the fans can lean against the fence with a meat pie in one hand and a cold can in the other shouting encouragement and/or abuse, helping the players remember just where it all began.
Jim Beam Smooth Move of the Week
Sonny Bill Williams showed no nerves whatsoever against his former club last Friday night, throwing a great cut-out pass for Roger Tuivasa-Sheck's try, before scoring twice himself in the Roosters 38-0 demolition of the Bulldogs.