This week the teams for the annual City Origin v Country Origin clash were revealed, with a lot of surprises – most of them unpleasant ones. It highlighted a long-running issue with the annual fixture; that it does not receive the respect it deserves.
The ‘Place of Origin’ concept began in 1987 and was designed to essentially ‘reboot’ the concept and make it relevant. Prior to this, it had largely been a match – played under residential rules – where the City boys, fielding many Country players, would thrash the Country-based side. In the early 1980s, a condescending rule allowed Country to borrow one City player who came from the Country. This did nothing for the series.
And so in 1987, the Country side was allowed to select any players who played in the bush before playing in the city. It was the biggest step in the right direction this fixture had ever received in over half a century of existence.
The 26 players who were selected in the first City Origin v Country Origin game contained 10 current Test players, five former Test players and two future Test players. Only one of the players was aged over 29. The average age of both sides was 25 for City and 26 for Country.
The teams for that inaugural clash were:
City Origin: Jonathan Docking, Michael O’Connor, Brett Kenny, Mark McGaw, Eric Grothe, Terry Lamb, Des Hasler, Pat Jarvis, Ben Elias, Peter Tunks, Paul Sironen, Wayne Parce (c), Paul Langmack.
Country Origin: Garry Jack, John Allanson, Andrew Farrar, Chris Mortimer, Brian Johnston, Mark Laurie, Peter Sterling (c), Ron Gibbs, Noel Cleal, Les Davidson, Peter Kelly, Mal Cochrane, David Boyle.
City won this match 30-22 and the four subsequent clashes, with the biggest victory coming in 1991 when they won 22-12. Country were no longer being flogged or disgraced. In 1992, a Laurie Daley-inspired Country Origin side defeated City 17-10. It was the first time Country had beaten City since their 19-9 win in 1975, when Gerringong-based Mick Cronin starred for the bush boys.
After the game was reunified in 1998, The City-Country clash was dumped for three years. Over the last decade, the game has been increasingly hampered by a bevy of players making themselves unavailable once selected. It’s now lost all its lustre. It was reduced to a selection trial for the NSW State of Origin side, and has now been reduced to even less than that.
The 2016 City side contains 10 players with less than 50 first grade games under their belt – two of whom have played less than four games in the NRL.
The 17 City players this year have a total of 813 games of NRL experience between them, with zero State of Origin games and 10 Tests. Compare that to the 1362 games of experience that the 13 City players from 1987 had, as well as 59 State of Origins and 65 Tests, you start to see how the City side of the contest does not respect this fixture anymore.
A spate of withdrawals has also highlighted the lack of importance the game’s players, coaches, clubs and powerbrokers place on the City-Country tradition.
That in itself is disgraceful, disrespectful and a condescending kick in the face to Country. We can only hope that City is handed an enormous flogging and hope that it will shame everyone involved to give rural footy and this game the full respect that Country sides have always given it.
**This article appeared on the Commentary Box Sports website**