Country vs City will make a welcome return to the NSWRL representative calendar this weekend and NSWRL TV will be on hand to cover all the action across venues in Sydney and Wollongong.
Fans of both the maroon-and-gold Country and blue-and-gold City will be cheering as their teams square off in Under 16s (11am), Under 18s (12.40pm) and Open Women’s (2.30pm) at Bankwest Stadium on Saturday 15 May.
The action switches to Collegians Sporting Complex Country in Figtree, Wollongong on Sunday 16 May with Country vs City Physical Disability (10am) followed by the Under 20s Steel City clash (11am) between Newcastle and Illawarra, the Open Men’s Country vs City (12.30pm), and the Open Men’s Steel City match (2.20pm) rounding off the day.
Saturday 15 May
Country vs City Under 16s (11am Bankwest Stadium)
The Country vs City Under 16s match will bring the best players from regional NSW competition SLE Andrew Johns Cup up against the best players from Sydney metropolitan competition UNE Harold Matthews Cup.
City Under 16 coach Stephen O’Dea said he was looking forward to how his players handled the game following a positional training session at the NSWRL Centre of Excellence this week.
“The main thing for me is to see all these boys together,” O’Dea said.
“They’ve been brought here because they’re talented individuals – no question about that.
“But it’s probably at the age of 16 that you have to learn talent alone won’t get you through – it’s a few other things you need to work on.
“They include respect, discipline, effort. They’re the sort of things I’ve spoken to them about hoping they will bring that to the table, because if they show those things, it will enhance their talent as time goes on.”
The City Under 16s side has a proud history of players continuing their rugby league progression.
“Again, we’ve been stressing this to the boys that his opportunity is nothing to be glanced at,” O’Dea said.
“You have to grab it with both hands. It’s probably the biggest thing they’ve done to date in their early careers.
The players from both Country and City were put through their paces by Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler and other True Blue legends, Paul McGregor, Craig Wing, Nathan Hindmarsh, Steve Menzies and Andrew Johns.
“I went over to Andrew Johns and I was like a kid at a candy store,” O’Dea said.
“I just wanted to listen to what he had to say and watch what he did and why. I soaked it all up like a sponge and I saw our young players doing that too.
Country vs City 18s (12.40pm Bankwest Stadium)
The Country vs City Under 18s match will bring the best players from regional NSW competition SLE Laurie Daley Cup up against the best players from Sydney metropolitan competition UNE SG Ball Cup and will act as part of the selection process for the NSW Under 19s team to face Queensland during the Ampol State of Origin series. The NSW side will be coached by former NRL Dragons mentor Paul McGregor.
City coach Brett Kimmorley said the NSWRL had constructed great programs to engage the state’s best young talent.
“You’ve got the high end of the players for this age group from both City and Country teams, they’re part of the Emerging Blues,” Kimmorley said.
“It’s only three days of coaching so a limited preparation. But we’ve given players basic principles on how we want to attack, how we want to defend, our combinations on left, right and middle,” he said.
“There are 36 kids from City and Country getting such a good opportunity. They’re not far away from quickly developing into top players.
“It’s very educational and must be taken on with high aims in mind and respect is top of that list.”
He said McGregor had not given him any specific instructions of what he wanted to see from either side in Saturday’s match.
“I’ve spoken with ‘Mary’, invited him into the (coach’s) box on Saturday. He’s not detailed anything but he helped train the guys in one session taking them through edge and middle running.”
Some of Kimmorley’s charges might be pushing their way into a NSW Origin jersey in a couple of years.
“You’d hope those with potential can do that by showing what they can do in games like this,” Kimmorley said.
Country vs City Women’s Open Age (2.30pm Bankwest Stadium)
The best players from the Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Premiership and Women’s Open Age Country Championships will do battle against each other in a match that will have bearing on the make-up of the Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Origin team for the match against Queensland on the Sunshine Coast on Friday 25 June.
Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Origin coach Kylie Hilder and assistant Geoff Toovey will both be casting an eye over the game.
Hilder said she had a few holes in her NSW side to fill – starting with her own at hooker, where she played in the 2019 and 2020 games.
“But I don’t want to single out names and positions as that puts too much expectation and pressure,” Hilder said.
From a glance on paper, the City side with eight 2020 Origin players and Country with three could mean a lop-sided result.
“Look they’ve all been playing really well. The City side is stacked with Origin players from last year but it’s the perfect opportunity for those Country girls to stamp themselves as Origin standard.
“We’ve got some good young halves coming through (Joceyln Kelleher and Rachael Pearson), who are playing for Country that no-one has ever heard, or seen much of them. So it’s an opportunity for them to step up and show what they’ve got.
Toovey wants to see a lot of grit and guts.
“We want to see passion and effort… something goes wrong, you get back up and keep going again and again,” he said.
Sunday 16 May
Country vs City Men’s Open Age (12.30pm Collegians Sporting Complex)
The best players from Sydney metropolitan Ron Massey Cup and the Men’s Country Championships will come together for the final match for Country vs City.
True Blue Beau Scott remembers the pride he felt when presented with his first Country Rugby League jersey in 2009. He also played in 2012 and 2014.
Now the player has turned mentor with Scott in charge of the Country Men’s Open Men’s side. The City team is under the guidance of Brett Cook.
Although the Country-City game no longer acts as an NSW Origin selection trial, it still holds great significance.
“It’s an established, historic game. The first was in 1911 so there’s a lot of heritage there. I’ve tried to pass that onto the players when they came into camp,” Scott said.
“There’s a lot of excited footy players here who are really pumped to be named in the team and pull on that Country jersey. It’s a privilege and an honour.”
The players will be officially presented with their Country jerseys at a team dinner on Saturday night.
“It is a special occasion on its own – you realise how important it is,” Scott said.
“We’ve got some young kids in the team as well as a 35-year-old. I got them to stand up and tell everyone a little about themselves and no matter the age, they each said this jersey was their highest level of football, and they were very proud.”