Master coach Wayne Bennett says a passion for supporting bush football is behind South Sydney’s decision to play a trial game in Albury.
Bennett has just taken over as mentor of one of the game’s most prestigious brands – the Rabbitohs – and he wanted another practice match in a regional area.
Souths will play Riverina at Albury Sportsground on Saturday, February 16 in a stunning coup for the code.
“I’m always concerned about country NSW and Queensland, that’s the background of the sport,” he said.
“I’ve never gone too far away from what’s important to me.
“I’ve done that with the Broncos quite a number of times, I did it at the Dragons, Newcastle.
“We’ve got to give something back.”
It’s almost unheard of that a national team would book a pre-season game at a regional area this late in the calendar year, so the Border has received an unexpected bonus.
It will be the first of three trial matches for the Bunnies, so the club won’t field its all-star lineup.
“There will be some good players, but we’ll build into the pre-season with the Charity Shield game,” Bennett said.
Souths’ pre-season is unique in that in annually contests the NRL’s biggest game – the Charity Shield –against St George Illawarra.
The Rabbitohs finished just a game short of the grand final, falling to their fiercest rival, the Sydney Roosters, who claimed the premiership a week later against Melbourne.
The Bunnies have a stack of high-profile players, including Queensland captain Greg Inglis and English powerhouse Sam Burgess, while hooker Damien Cook burst into State of Origin level with a bang.
Albury Thunder coach Adrian Purtell will captain Riverina, while Thunder premiership mentor Josh Cale will coach the team.
It will be Bennett’s first visit to the Border since 1995.
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