You have skipped the navigation, tab for page content
The 2016 Country Origin team.

For Jack Wighton it was sleeping in his footy boots and running onto a frost-bitten field in Orange in his tracksuit pants; Shaun Timmins recalls kicking footballs onto the beach beside the blowhole at Kiama in order to get out of training.

Isaah Yeo has fond memories of traipsing around behind his father around the towns that make up the Group 11 competition in western New South Wales while for Dale Finucane it was rare trips to McDonald's at Cooma after a game at Bibbenluke in the state's south.

Every player to have worn the Country jersey has a similar tale to tell of their formative years in the game and if the concept survives beyond 2017 there will be kids at Scully Park in Tamworth on Sunday who will one day get the chance to share their stories.

Connection to the country is a bond that every member of Craig Fitzgibbon's team shares with the sell-out crowd that will flood into Scully Park on Sunday and one which brings with it an extra sense of responsibility.

City Origin players are expecting a less than hospitable welcome when they run out on Sunday and for the Country players it is a chance to honour the grounding that set them on their path to the big time.

"It was Sunday arvo football and watching the local first grade team run around and your first steps are wanting to play at that level, in the local first grade comp and then it catapults from there and you want more after that," says Country debutant Mitchell Aubusson.

"It was hours in the car and wanting to play with your mates. I've still got five or six of my best mates I played junior footy with in that local league.

"They came down to my 200th game for the Roosters last week and I wouldn't want anyone else there besides those guys.

"I owe a big chunk of where I am today to Ballina junior rugby league and senior rugby league."

Panthers forward Isaah Yeo is almost a carbon copy of his father Justin who played in Sydney with Balmain and North Sydney before returning to Dubbo to captain-coach Dubbo CYMS to great success.

Although he would forge his own path as he got older, Isaah has no doubt those days watching his dad play shaped the player and person he would become.

"One of my first memories of football was watching my old man play in the Group 11 comp," said Yeo, who will have grandparents, parents and siblings in attendance on Sunday.

"He was the coach as well so I remember being able to travel around with him and that's probably where my love for footy came from.

"I think Souths might have been the lowest team on the NRL ladder at that stage and I used to always think that Dubbo CYMS could beat South Sydney. That's just the perception I had as a young fella."

For some, the joys were more simple. Dale Finucane grew up playing for the Bega Roosters in the Group 16 competition where there was a fierce local rivalry with Tathra and long road trips to play at Batemans Bay.

There were carnivals at the tiny town of Bibbenluke where the grazing of skin was later soothed with some treasured fast food.

"There was a little town called Bibbenluke up near Bombala and it was freezing cold in the morning," Finucane told

"It was pretty much just a dirt field with grass clippings on it that had just been thrown over the top of it because it was as hard as a rock.

"But it was always a really enjoyable day and we'd duck up to Cooma and go to McDonald's because there was no McDonald's within two hours of us at that stage.

"That was always a treat, going to Macca's with your mates.

"We'd all car pool to wherever we were going to play and I just remember it being a really enjoyable experience."

These are the memories that have endured for the modern stars of our game.

Not of winning premierships or scoring bucketloads of tries, but of experiences shared with mates as boys played the game they loved for the purest of reasons.

There are some 55,000 kids each weekend doing the same throughout country New South Wales and for 80 minutes on Sunday they will have 17 elite athletes playing just for them.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

Premier Partner

Media Partners

Major Partners

View All Partners