Former Country Origin captain Michael Ennis has expressed his disappointment at the demise of the annual Country-City fixture and has pleaded for more NRL games to be taken to regional areas in order to maintain that pathway.
Sunday's clash between Country Origin and City Origin will be the last in a concept that stretches back to 1911 and has attracted attention this week more for the players who won't be playing rather than those who are.
Clubs such as the Bulldogs, Raiders and the Cowboys have made players unavailable for selection with City coach Brad Fittler requiring extra time on Monday in order to field a squad of 17.
Writing in this week's special Representative Round issue of Big League Ennis speaks of the pride in wearing the Country jersey for the first time in 2009 and captaining the team in Coffs Harbour for the 2013 match.
While he acknowledges that the clubs have a responsibility to ensure their players are fit and available to play in the NRL, Ennis is concerned that if something isn't done to replace the fixture that country areas will struggle to generate talent in the manner they have in the past.
"During the week of City v Country it was so special to see what it meant to people to have NRL players in town and to hear the passion of some of the people who have been involved with Country Rugby League for a long time. I still consider them friends," Ennis said.
"The next thing to look at is taking NRL games to the country. Some of the facilities out there are sensational and the atmosphere of a small ground is amazing.
"A game between the Roosters and the Warriors at Allianz Stadium may get a crowd between 8,000- 12,000 people – in the bush, that's a packed house.
"Sending games out there is rewarding for the people who have contributed so much to rugby league, including some of the best players to have laced up a boot.
"There are plenty more out there at the moment and we need to make sure they have a pathway to the NRL – that they're not lost to the game."
When Ennis made his first appearance for Country he and then Wests Tigers and City Origin hooker Robbie Farah were engaged in a two-way tussle to replace Danny Buderus in the New South Wales Origin team.
It has been recognised for a number of years that the City-Country game is not the Origin trial that it once was but Ennis sees a number of players – particularly within the Country team – who have the potential to line up for the Blues in this year's series.
"If you look at how strong the teams could be compared to what they actually will be on Sunday, there are only a few genuine Origin hopefuls in the mix," Ennis said.
"Looking at the Country team, Matt Prior, Paul Vaughan and Dale Finucane are all in line and deserve their chance to play Origin this year.
"There's a lot of talk about whether scrapping the game is right or wrong, but the decision has been made now and we have to move forward."
The Representative Round issue of Big League featuring stories on Anthony Milford, David Klemmer, Jack De Belin along with all the representative teams in action this weekend is on sale now at newsagents, supermarkets, at the ground and via www.magsonline.com.au/big-league.