City-Country dying slowly

THE NOTEBOOK

HEAVEN forbid – Wagga could be the last hope for the survival of the City-Country game.

At a time when it seems barely anyone thinks City-Country is a worthwhile exercise, reports are flying that Wagga and Parkes are the preferred candidates to stage the flagging fixture in 2014.

This follows the abysmal failure of the once grand football showpiece at Coffs Harbour 10 days ago.

Seven years after City-Country attracted 11,423 at Dubbo, the game drew a miserable 4635 at Coffs Harbour – and that was at a stretch.

Instead of bursting at the seams, the far north coast venue more resembled Conolly Rugby Complex for a “blockbuster” between Waratahs and Young.

The Coffs Harbour crowd, for want of a better word, was disgraceful and another six-inch nail in the coffin of City-Country.

Still, there is a slight glimmer of hope – and it could be that Wagga will be the city to provide the the annual representative game with a lifeline.

There is talk already that Wagga City Council and Wagga Rugby League have jumped in to apply to hold the game next year – and it seems the CRL is on board as well. Naturally, the big question is whether City-Country will be around in 12 months time as it is more or less hanging by the proverbial thread at the moment.

Ticket prices – $50 for a reserved seat in the stand – were blamed for the disaster at Coffs Harbour two weeks ago, but the problems go deeper than that.

Honestly, City-Country has been dying a dreadfully slow death for 20 years. 

Remember, back in 2002 the game was played in Wagga and only attracted 8342 at Eric Weissel Oval.

Even this figure raised eyebrows as the great old ground hardly look packed.

Anyway, Wagga is now in the running to get City-Country for a second (probably last ever) time.

Obviously this is cause for real celebration, but also some degree of vexation.

The interesting bit, of course, is whether Wagga City Council will be pushing for the game to be played at rejuvenated Robertson Oval or at Equex Centre.

As much as Equex Centre is a purpose-built rugby league facility, it is very much a venue with decided drawbacks, including no northern hill, restricted reserve seating and jaded amenities.

Equex Centre also has a limited capacity – 5000 at best – and the lighting at the ground is not up to standard for TV coverage. Council is aware of these issues and knows they can be addressed by building the northern hill and adding a few bulbs on the light towers.

Significantly, council has also made a $7 million investment in remarkable Robertson Oval and is eager (desperate) to use the venue for all manner of major events, ensuring it gets maximum exposure. 

Advertiser colleague Simon Brunsdon, however, rightly pointed out in Simon Says last week that playing rugby league on Robertson Oval on Anzac Day threw up some challenges, notably that spectators were a long way from the action.

Brunsdon’s solution is as simple as it is brilliant – mark the rugby league field on the western side of the oval and allow spectators onto the eastern side to watch the game. Tricky, yes, for the Riverina Football League-Group Nine doubleheader on Anzac Day next year, but absolutely no problem for City-Country.

Portable seating on the eastern side of Robertson Oval would make the venue more rugby league-friendly and stop some of the whinging. By the way, another task for council – sooner rather than later – is to get busy and lay turf on the hill area at Robertson Oval as it is currently more like a sand dune in the Sahara Desert.

For council, the critical part of the entire equation is to first convince the CRL, NRL or ARL Commission to play the game in Wagga. I suppose the choice between Equex Centre and Robertson Oval needs to be done ASAP or Wagga may effectively be left out in the cold – again.

*****

SELECTORS need to show imagination when it comes to picking the Group Nine representative team for the Country Championship next month.

Rather than just recycle players that have tried and failed in the past, the selectors should open their minds and give the team a fresher look. Sometimes it seems selectors can only see the players they know, not bring others into view.

In a year in which Group Nine clubs have signed a plethora of quality players, the selectors have to be prepared to give them a shot, instead of sticking with the those from past years. 

Rest assured, this isn’t meant as a criticism of the diligent and determined selectors, more so a reminder to all players to put up their hands for selection.

Often high-profile recruits at clubs are reluctant to be picked for representative  duty as they risk injury, which could have a serious impact on their earnings for the season. Still, if Group Nine wants to have a show of winning the Country Championship every player has to be available – no ifs, no buts.

To make things easier for selectors, The Notebook has done the rounds and settled on the best of the new faces and the pick of the regulars at the 11 clubs.

And, with apologises, here they are: (Albury) Lou Goodwin, Mitch Davis, Willie Heta, Ben Jeffery; (Brothers) Luke Barry, Blake Dunn, Noa Fotu; (Cootamundra) Grant Boyd; (Gundagai) James Smart, Cameron Woo; (Junee) Toby Key, Daniel Foley, Jade Williams; (Kangaroos) Glenn Dumbrell, Adam Hall, Hayden Davis, Liam Duffy; (Southcity) Scott Bowden, Peter Little, Pani Manwatu; (Temora) Scott Matthews, Jeremy Smith, George Maka; (Tumbarumba) Joss Cleal, Aaron Sweeney, Kane Hammond; (Tumut) Joseph Ioane-Toetu, Jacob Toppin, Josh Toohey; (Young) Luke Branighan, Perry Whitely, Joel Farrell, Riley Scelly

*****

GALLERY: Group Nine Team of the Week

Fullback: Liam Duffy (Kangaroos)

Wingers: Noa Fotu (Brothers), Nick Wilson (Albury)

Centres: Jacob Toppin (Tumut), George Maka (Temora)

Five-eighth: Willie Heta (Albury)

Halfback: Matt Forsyth (Cootamundra)

Lock: Grant Boyd (Cootamundra)

Second rowers: Toby Key (Junee), Matt Pike (Temora)

Props: Scott Matthew (Temora), Mitch Davis (Albury)

Hooker: Glenn Dumbrell (Kangaroos)

*Players can be named out of position

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