Let’s face it, after seven years and seven series losses, New South Wales Origin needs all the help it can get.
The stats speaks for themselves. In the 21 matches since NSW won a series, Queensland have scored 419 points at an average of almost 20 per game, while NSW has managed only 315 – an average of just 15 per game.
The Maroons have also scored 73 tries (3.4 per game) to NSW’s 55 (2.6 per game) while the Blues have never reached 30 points in a single match – a feat Queensland has achieved four times.
There are many reasons for the disparity, some of them self-inflicted, others uncontrollable, and there’s no quick-fix remedy.
What is certain, though, is that the City-Country game should be part of the solution, not the problem.
Over the last couple of days, a wave of anti-City-Country sentiment has swamped Sydney.
On Triple M, Mark Geyer called for the game to be scrapped or modified while others raised doubts about fan interest and questioned its relevance.
“We are putting our best players out on the field when Queensland sit back and laugh at us saying ‘are you blokes still playing this, honestly?'” said Geyer.
I agree with some of what MG said, but there’d be more merit in that argument if most of the Queensland side weren’t running around in Australian colours on the same weekend.
Exacerbated by the withdrawal of several players during the week, most of the criticism stems from the out-dated notion many are still clinging to that City-Country is a genuine Origin selection match.
It isn’t, so we need to alter our perceptions of the game.
It was once a good old-fashioned grudge match which gave country players a chance to take on the well-heeled city-slickers, but like the shoulder charge and mounds of sand for kicking tees, those days are gone.
So are the days of it being a legitimate trial for State of Origin – Blues coach Laurie Daley has already said publicly that most of the squad has already been picked.
What the game does is give present and prospective Origin players valuable experience playing together.
It’s no wonder the spine of the Melbourne Storm – Slater, Cronk and Smith – are three of the first names Mal Meninga and Tim Sheens jot down when they compile their starting teams for Queensland and the Kangaroos.
Those three players play together every week – every day in fact – and the more time NSW affords its players to do the same thing, the better the combinations and understanding between them will be.
It’s not just on game day either. Training and staying together through the week is invaluable in building connections.
You can also learn a lot about your potential teammate by playing against him – when does a half like to run, when will a centre pass outside him.
Getting the chance to play against future Origin teammates gives an insight into what they will do on the big stage, and also what Queensland will be up against. It’s the little things.
Tony Williams is a good example. It’s no secret he hasn’t been playing to his full potential this season, but are we really ready to throw him on the Origin scrapheap?
He could easily play his way back into form between now and June (T-Rex was influential for NSW in Origin One last year in his first game back from a seven-week suspension) and should be given every opportunity to play valuable minutes with potential Blues teammates; and them with him.
The argument that we know what players like Robbie Farah and Jarryd Hayne can do so we don’t need to see them on trial merely serves to shoot NSW in the foot.
Even the supreme athletes will benefit from more game time together.
The Kiwis are a case in point. New Zealand hasn’t won a one-off Test match in I don’t know how long, but are always dangerous at the back end of tournaments.
If we can eliminate some of the hype and just let them play football, maybe NSW will start pegging back some of those sorry statistics.