TAKING aim at Riverina rugby league folklore, Group Nine centre Damian Willis has declared Group 20 does not have a monopoly on football fervour.
Back in the Group Nine squad after a two-year break, Willis yesterday admitted he believes a myth surrounds the Group 20 team.
“They’re always saying Group 20 plays with all this passion (against Group Nine),” Willis said.
“You keep hearing how they (Group 20 players) play for each.
“I can tell you Group Nine does exactly the same thing.
“There is real pride in the (Group Nine) jumper.”
Willis’s emotional response is a powerful reaction to the way in which Group 20 is painted as a team with State of Origin-type zeal.
Despite the Group 20 premiership living in the shadow of Group Nine, the Griffith-based competition has developed an edge in the representative arena in recent times, fuelling the myth.
Revving up the rivalry, Willis says Group Nine is not about to settle for second best this year.
“Group Nine has an exceptionally strong side,” he said.
“You can see this from the fact so many good players missed out (on selection).”
For Willis, the return to the Group Nine team came unexpected.
“I was little bit shocked when I was picked on Sunday night,” he said. “I’ve only played two games and I didn’t know whether I’d done enough.
“It was a goal of mine to make the team after two years out, but I wasn’t sure I would.”
Fresh from blasting on three tries for new club Gundagai against Tumut on Sunday, Willis, who thrives on a challenge, is the perfect player to have in the Group Nine team.
This year the barnstorming back has carried his renowned will-to-win to Gundagai as the Tigers try to end a 30-year drought in the Group Nine premiership.
Gundagai last won the title in 1984, but has since lost eight grand finals.
“I’m really enjoying footy this year,” he said.
“I’ve been training hard and James (Smart) is a really good coach
“Expectations are quite high in Gundagai this year, but we’re playing it down.
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves or peak too early.”
Gundagai was caught on the hop in the first game and crashed to Albury before hitting back to smash Tumut 44-4 on Sunday.
“We played quite well against Tumut,” Willis said.
“The week before we made too many handling errors and didn’t get the basic stuff right.”
History beckoning, Willis is ready to share two memorable victories in 2013.