Dream team: NSWRL CEO David Trodden, KARI City Origin coach Brad Fittler and KARI CEO Paul Ralph.Players who pull out of the City-Country game could face a one-match NRL ban under a proposal tabled by the Country Rugby League.
Last year’s fixture was marred by mass injury withdrawals, meaning the biggest drawcards weren’t available to promote the game in the bush.
The following weekend of NRL matches was dubbed “Lazarus Round” after 29 players ruled out of representative football were fit to play for their clubs. Only two scratched players, Cronulla’s Todd Carney and Penrith’s Elijah Taylor – who were ruled out of country and New Zealand duty respectively – failed to be fit for round nine last year.
The seemingly miraculous recoveries from a spate of one-week injuries raised suspicions that players, pressured by their clubs, were encouraged to skip the traditional State of Origin selection trial.
CRL chief executive Terry Quinn is pushing for unavailable players to be hit with one-game bans to protect the integrity of the bush fixture.
“You’d like to see some sort of sanction if they aren’t genuine,” Quinn said. “If the game is on the calendar, then we have to respect that game, it’s been approved by the NRL to be played, so let’s play it in good faith.
“If there are injuries, then fair enough, but if they are not honest then they shouldn’t be allowed to play the next week for their club. Honesty has to be a big thing here, if you’re really injured then you won’t be able to play for your club anyway.
“It’s always hard to get past the coaches on it but I’ll be talking to [NRL CEO] Dave Smith about it.”
It is unlikely NSW coach Laurie Daley will want to see too many established players chosen for the fixture, with the focus on viewing how promising young players handle the step up to representative football.
It’s only a matter of time before debate reignites about the relevance of the clash, particularly if Wagga Wagga doesn’t get behind the May 3 encounter. Two years ago, high ticket prices were blamed for a paltry crowd of just 4635 at Coffs Harbour, about a third of the figure who attended the Australian National Balloon Championships at Canowindra on the same weekend. Last year ticket prices were slashed, resulting in 9627 witnessing a 26-all draw in Dubbo.
Discounted tickets – from $10 for adults, $5 for children and $25 for families – are available at Wagga Wagga as the region prepares to celebrate its annual race-day weekend.
“I feel strongly about it because this game is important to the bush,” Quinn said. “Not only is it important for promoting the game of rugby league but also recruitment. People need to be able to see their heroes and to do that the game has to be genuine.
“It needs to be geared towards State of Origin and making it meaningful in selection. Hopefully [mass scratchings] won’t happen again.”
City coach Brad Fittler, also an assistant to Daley, earmarked rising stars James Roberts, Tepai Moeroa and Luke Keary as likely selections who could push for Blues honours for the opening game of the Origin series. It’s also an opportunity for halves candidates to put further pressure on incumbents Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds, who are struggling for form with the Bulldogs.
The City Origin side partnered with Aboriginal foster care community service provider KARI during the week.
“The best players in our game are indigenous, and the KARI City Origin partnership ensures rugby league helps that community, both on and off the field,” Fittler said. “I would have been honoured to pull on this jersey and play in the KARI City Origin strip.”
Balmain legends Steve “Blocker” Roach and Paul Sironen will join Quinn in Wagga Wagga to promote the clash from Monday. Follow LeagueHQ on TwitterPlay Ultimate League
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