Juniors set example for City-Country heroes
Kids from all throughout north-west New South Wales will leave Scully Park in Tamworth on Sunday with dreams of emulating their NRL idols but for a brief moment prior to kick-off those same heroes will be taking their lead.
Reviving a tradition that has been dead at the top level for some 50 years, players participating in Sunday's AAMI Country-City clash will meet on halfway prior to kick-off, look each other in the eyes, shake hands and then retreat in preparation for battle.
It's an initiative that was introduced by the Country Rugby League last year and implemented by the New South Wales Rugby League this season across its competitions and requires teams from under-6s all the way through to local first grade and the Intrust Super Premiership NSW to shake hands before play begins.
Junior league participants have been encouraged to also take the NSWRL Respect Pledge this year in order to preserve strong relationships with fellow players, officials and spectators and comes with the full support of City Origin coach and rugby league legend Brad Fittler.
"That will look awesome," Fittler said on the eve of the game.
"I know they started to do it in the NSW Rugby League with the junior kids and that's the important stuff. That's getting back to where footy was forever. It became unimportant for some reason.
"Contact sport has got to be about respect. It gets out of control if it doesn't. I think that's wonderful."
Not since the 1966 grand final between St George and Balmain have teams at the top level exchanged pleasantries before dishing out punishment and Country captain James Maloney believes it embodies what the annual Country v City clash stands for.
"It's a little bit different but it brings the country feel. They're doing it all across NSW now so it brings that country feel to the game," Maloney said.
"Everyone shakes hands after the game which is a sign of good sportsmanship so it's an interesting one but I don't think it matters either way.
"Happy to do it and I guess for the kids in the crowd it makes them feel like we're doing what they do."
While also supportive of the concept, Country coach Craig Fitzgibbon joked that such an unfamiliar ritual may catch a couple of players off guard.
"It will be unique for them," Fitzgibbon said.
"They wouldn't have done that before but from memory they have started from the under-6s onwards shaking hands in Country Rugby League.
"It's a different concept so we'll see how it goes on Sunday. Hopefully they don't kick-off too early."