Footy fans have suspected for a long-time that the annual City Vs Country match is a farce, but numerous examples in the lead-up this year prove it beyond doubt.
As happens every year, coaches and officials have trotted out the usual line that “this is a genuine State of Origin trial”, but this is a line that has been long worn out and can no longer be trusted.
Selection quirks, comments by former greats, evidence of the importance of players’ club form and the game’s scheduling priorities – all revealed this week – show why City Vs Country is not relevant, if it ever has been.
NSW selectors named a farcical squad of 40 last month, of players supposedly being seriously considered for the State of Origin series.
But Colin Best, who was named in the 40-man squad, couldn’t gain a position in the City backline for City Vs Country, supposedly a game involving players being considered for Origin.
Meanwhile, Wade McKinnon and Ben Pomeroy – two players not in the extended Blues squad – were selected in the City backline over Best.
Likewise, Mitchell Pearce – one of three halfbacks named in the 40-man NSW squad, but missed out on a City bench position to Craig Wing, who has been inconsistent at best and started the season late due to injury.
Two Country selectors quit during the week after they opted for in-form Bulldogs halfback Brett Kimmorley, but were over-ruled when Country coach and NSW selector Laurie Daley insisted on picking Jarrod Mullen.
But the issue shouldn’t be about the selection of Jarrod Mullen as halfback, as he did make the NSW preliminary squad, but the fact Daley initially wanted the out of form Trent Barrett as his halfback.
Barrett didn’t make the 40-man Blues squad and one of the major reasons Cronulla have performed so poorly in 2009 has been the fact Barrett replaced Kimmorley – now in sparkling form with the Bulldogs – as the man steering them around the park.
Kimmorley was not considered a realistic choice by Daley, but is just fourteen months older than Barrett and been consistently playing in the NRL at first grade level since 1997, whereas Barrett had two years with English side Wigan.
Barrett’s name for representative football should never have been mentioned before Mullen, Kimmorley or Country interchange player Jamie Soward. His intended selection for Country ahead of Mullen was a joke, and raised more questions about the value of being selected in the City v Country game.
In another selection quirk, Andrew Ryan wasn’t good enough to make the top 40 players in NSW, but was good enough to be named captain of the Country side.
With a strong game, Ryan could even sneak into the second-row for NSW.
The comments of former NSW greats have also raised questions about tonight’s clash.
Former NSW captain and Bulldogs legend Steve Mortimer this week called for Mullen to be selected as NSW five-eighth and Peter Wallace, who will line up for City, as halfback. This could be an option for NSW selectors, with the form of Terry Campese solid but not as dominant as last year. So is City Vs Country really a showdown between Mullen and Wallace for the halfback spot, or could Mortimer be on the money?
On showdowns, the duel between Ennis and Farah in the Bulldogs Vs Wests Tigers clash was one from the absolute top draw, but will it be replicated in the City Vs Country clash?
Will people remember what Ennis and Farah did last Sunday or will they remember what they do tonight?
How many times do people remember the battles champion halfbacks Steve Mortimer and Peter Sterling had at club level? Does anyone remember the few times they battled in the old City Vs Country clashes?
Which game will attract more interest, coverage and viewers?
City Vs Country tonight or Friday’s Dragons v Bulldogs top of the table local derby blockbuster, which will also be Hazem El Masri’s 300th first grade match? I think the answer is a simple one.
In all of this, spare a thought for Penrith’s Luke Lewis.
He was good enough to be named 18th man for Australia, but wasn’t going to be good enough if Billy Slater withdrew from the Kangaroos side.
Selectors had planned to opt for Brisbane’s Karmichael Hunt in the No.1 jumper ahead of specialist fullback Kurt Gidley, who was named on the interchange bench. Lewis will be without a game tonight and won’t be showcasing his form on any stage.
The positive for Lewis is that club form will be more relevant than the snooze fest that very few people will watch after the Test match.
The final, resounding point about the relevance of the City Vs Country clash is that the fixture will be replayed on TV after the Australia Vs New Zealand Test match.
Normally the second Friday night NRL fixture would come on air at around 9:30pm (AEST), but tonight the City Vs Country game will be televised closer to 10:30pm, due to Test match formalities such as national anthems, the Kiwi haka, presentations and speeches.
How many will stay up to watch the second match?
The only importance of the City Vs Country clash tonight is in the hope no one gets injured or suspended and they can resume normal club duties.
The Test match tonight is a different story and deserves prime-time billing and exposure.
International Rugby League should always have a prominent place on the Rugby League calendar, but now is time to put the City Vs Country farce to sleep and never to be seen again.
In Edition Four of Discord this week, Rleague.com weekly feature columnist Steve Mascord says that reducing the number of teams in Sydney is a step in the right direction, but questions Cronulla’s proposed move of five games on the Central Coast. Discord has his opinion on the NZRL’s policy of telling players before club matches they are in the Test side, the lack of effort by NSW and Queensland to promote the opening Origin match in Melbourne and finishes off by stating the best way to question a referee’s impartiality. You can read that in Discord by clicking here.
Matthew O’Neill is a Director and Columnist with www.rleague.com