It’s great to see the first representative games of the season held over a stand-alone weekend, but the clubs have to fully support the City-Country match or it should be called off. Every year the argument comes up that it is no longer relevant because it doesn’t act as a real selection trial for State of Origin. Every year the players hit back saying they love the game and take a lot of pride in their jerseys. I’ve always supported the concept, but clubs are starting to make a mockery of it.
On Sunday we saw two very strong sides selected to represent Country and City, but by the middle of the week those sides had been ripped apart. If a player is genuinely injured of course he would have to step down, but a lot of the players pulled from the clash are nursing niggles and strains that wouldn’t stop them from running out with their club sides. The NRL used to hold the threat of making the player sit out the weekend’s club game if he was ruled unfit for the representative game, but that doesn’t work with a stand-alone weekend.
If the clubs are going to start resting players from City-Country then the whole concept goes down the drain. I don’t mind the idea of allowing the State of Origin coach to rest key New South Wales certainties to protect them and to give young talent a chance to shine, but every other player must be available.
Having said that, there are some players making their representative debuts who have very exciting futures. For City, Wests Tigers pair James Tedesco and Curtis Sironen stand out. Both have been brought in due to the withdrawal of more established players and both are outstanding prospects. What worries me about these two is the lack of football both have had due to extended injuries. City-Country is not State of Origin, but it is a step up in intensity and probably not the best place to be testing your match fitness.
I’m tipping Country to win, based purely on the experience they have in the team. Last year the Country side looked way too strong on paper and were trounced by City, so it’s never a safe way to pick a winner. The players will be giving their all for their respective jerseys and we should see some entertaining football, despite some missing stars.
Unlike City-Country, at least everyone selected for Australia looks set to pull on the green and gold jersey. Australia takes on New Zealand in the annual Anzac Test on Friday night in Canberra and I agree with Greg Inglis – the Kangaroos won’t enjoy a walkover. It will be a hard fought match, particularly early, when I expect to see a lot of physical clashes in the forwards.
The Kiwis will field a very strong set of forwards, always willing to take the Kangaroos on up the middle and fearless in defence. If Sonny Bill Williams and Jeremy Smith had been in the team, they could have gone close to springing an upset. Benji Marshall is also a loss, but I think the pair of halves they have selected provide an exciting combination. One thing’s for sure, they won’t beat Australia by playing a structured game, they need to throw the ball around and try different things. Shaun Johnson and Kieran Foran are both capable of playing good ad-lib football.
The problem for the Kiwis will be stopping one of the best backlines ever assembled. Australia has way too much class from fullback through to halfback. Once the forwards have finished battering each other, the ball will shift through the hands of Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston to Billy Slater, Greg Inglis and Justin Hodges who can unleash the pace of Brett Morris and Darius Boyd. Late in both halves, as the Kiwis start to tire, the Kangaroos backline will start to make their mark and prove to be the difference.