Let's not forget Country Rugby League
'Grassroots' is a buzzword that's thrown around a bit too often for my liking.
It's mentioned in stories about the growth of the game, it's used as a way to describe junior rugby league clubs and the remote areas that don't get the attention they deserve. Often, the sentiment behind it doesn't feel sincere.
Do the people banging on about the 'grassroots' even give a toss? Have they been to a junior rugby league game further west – or south for that matter – than The Hills district or Wollongong? I do wonder.
The real meaning of the term can be lost because it's used almost disrespectfully often, but this week has been a poignant reminder to put some meaning back into the tired expression.
The death of Country Origin v City Origin has saddened me since it was announced that this year's contest in Mudgee would be the final one. It irked me in a way difficult to describe unless you know the struggles of Country Rugby League clubs who rely on generous volunteers to get work done around the place.
Simple things like upgrading a toilet block or getting new pads for the goal posts are not easy for clubs in the bush with no funds, when all they are trying to do is give people a way to play or watch their favourite sport.
Local councils do their best, but they have parks and roads to worry about – a new grandstand to increase the capacity at a purpose-built rugby league ground is not high on the priority list. Especially when other sports in town also have their hands out for new hockey nets, a canteen block or TV quality lights on a multi-purpose ground. Somehow though, things always get done.
Maybe a club secretary has an earth mover and the reserve-grade front-rower owns a bricklaying business, so they pitch in after a full day of work to make things happen. Generosity like this is the reason rugby league still exists in parts of Australia and around the world – people passionate enough not to let it die on their watch.
For the folk of Tamworth, Wagga, Dubbo or Woop Woop, a Country v City game held in any regional area is equivalent to a nod of thanks for their efforts. Or at least it was. Now that it's gone, we need to come up with another way to recognise and legitimately support not only Country Rugby League clubs, but the people who are losing motivation to keep the game afloat in their area.
Don't get me wrong, the logical part of me understands that the game no longer made sense business-wise, but if it were about the money, none of the 'grassroots' we speak of would exist. This annual game was never about business rewards, because nor are the people who've supported it.
I still have a shirt signed by Timana Tahu, Steve Simpson, Matt Parsons and Mark Hughes in a drawer at home. My friends and I ran onto Eric Weissel Oval with thousands of others at the end of the 2002 Country v City game in Wagga. It was pure madness as players gave away their boots and shirts... anything they could to this wild mob of fans.
I'll never forget the generosity of the players or the joy we felt for being lucky enough to be near our heroes. By then, I could count on one hand the number of NRL games I'd been to. Watching on TV is great, but seeing them live is a luxury not afforded to everyone.
Thinking back to that time, I feel so lucky to be a country girl working in the game I still love so much. One day we may wonder why Country v City Origin ever existed but I'll be forever grateful it did.
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.