Mixed emotions for Country Origin
The past week has been the best footy week of all time for Country Origin coach Craig Fitzgibbon, who says that happiness is tinged with sadness that the annual fixture won't continue as well as disappointment to have finished on the wrong end of the scoreline in the last ever fixture.
Country created plenty of chances but couldn't jag the late try they needed to steal a win, instead conceding one at the death to go down 20-10 at Mudgee's Glen Willow Sports Complex.
"There were mixed emotions," Fitzgibbon said after the game.
"[There was] sadness around, you have one of the best footy weeks of our lives. We talked about it as a group, it's mixed emotions knowing that can't happen again and even the City staff, they were feeling the same way.
"You just have the best footy week of your life so you're disappointed at the end of it but going into the game, it's rep football, both teams had nine debutants tonight so to be able to provide an opportunity for nine players on each side to make their debut at a rep level and the standards went up there.
"That was a damn hard game for everyone involved so I would say it burns, it hurts, disappointing but proud. That was a good hard game and rep footy is all about those fine margins. Unfortunately we were on the wrong end of that but not through lack of effort."
Country skipper Mitch Aubusson praised the manner in which the local community embraced the concept and the Country Origin squad.
"Seeing the way Mudgee embraced us during the week was really good and seeing all the shop fronts all decorated really gave our guys a kick and running out for warm up," he said.
"It was real electrifying for us and gave us a good kick and helped us hang in there. I couldn't thank the Mudgee people enough for coming out and turning up."
Fitzgibbon was hopeful there would be some manner of continuing access to top-flight rugby league for country regions moving forward.
"Whether it's NRL teams coming out this way or some way it can get rebooted another way in a couple of years' time. The pressure on clubs was unfair, they've got a job to do as well," he said.
Fitzgibbon was critical of the scheduling, which saw an NRL game between North Queensland and Canterbury scheduled for four days after City-Country but tried to focus on the positives.
"We've just been trying not to worry about any of that. That was the sadness around knowing it's the last one but geez we had a good week," he said.
"It's the way footy should be and that's what footy should look like when you play representative footy in my opinion."