Penrith back-rower and Country Origin representative Isaah Yeo is hopeful the phasing out of the annual City-Country fixture doesn't damage the chances of people in the bush to see top flight rugby league.
The proud Dubbo product hopes to add to his one Country jersey gained last season for the final fixture in Mudgee in 2017 in front of friends and family and hopes as many clubs as possible follow Penrith's lead in taking a game to the bush each year.
"Obviously the City-Country game is massive out in the country," Yeo told NRL.com of the fixture.
"It's able to bring crowds out to the bush and it impacts the community for whoever's holding it. I know in the country we hold it in very high regard so obviously for it to be finished after this year is disappointing but that's the way it goes I guess.
"Hopefully this year I can play well before it and hopefully get picked in the last one. It's in Mudgee which is where my family is now but there's a long way to go before I can think about that."
Yeo said both the country community in general and the immediate community around where the fixture is held each year draw benefits from the game.
"It's a loss for rugby league and it might make it a bit harder for country players to come through the grades but there's enough pathways now for country players to still be able to come through the system and hopefully play NRL," he added.
Each year Yeo circles the date when the Panthers will take a home game to Bathurst's Carrington Park. Most Sydney clubs donate at least one home game to a growth area and Yeo hoped as many clubs as possible could continue servicing bush footy.
Non-Sydney teams have much steeper travel commitments compared to their Sydney counterparts and none (other than the Warriors who take one game two hours south of Auckland to Hamilton) will take a home game to a growth area in 2017.
However most Sydney clubs will take at least one game away next year; the Roosters (Gosford and Adelaide) and Rabbitohs (Cairns and Perth) do so twice while the Eels (Darwin), Bulldogs (Dunedin) and Sea Eagles (Perth) each take a home game far afield. Wests Tigers are already split between three home grounds with only four games apiece at traditional home venues of Leichhardt and Campbelltown leaving just Cronulla as the only Sydney club to play all its home games at one venue – although they will join Brisbane in the UK for the World Club Series immediately before the NRL season proper.
"It would be [good to see more clubs taking game bush] even if it's taking a game to country areas in New Zealand," Yeo said.
"I know Bathurst love having us there and we love going to Bathurst; it's something different to be able to go out in the community and it does help. I can only see positives in teams going out there.
"It's definitely something I circle on the calendar, the Bathurst trip, being from the country and I think a few more clubs should get behind it."
This article first appeared on NRL.com