Rugby league, it’s back.
The All Stars game made a stunning return on Friday night at Melbourne, the Indigenous outfit running out commanding winners against the Maori boys in the New Zealand side’s initiation to the concept.
Parramatta, Canberra and the Broncos all took part in trials, too, while the South Sydney Rabbitohs also kicked off their 2019 campaign on the weekend.
The Rabbitohs took a trial game to the Riverina, taking on a senior divisional side in front of a healthy crowd at Albury.
It’s the first time I can recall a NRL club taking a squad to the bush to take on what was essentially a senior, invitational representative side from a Country Rugby League area.
Naturally, Souths proved a class above winning 52-10 but the scoreline is beside the point – this is a brilliant idea.
And given the representative calendar is now, by and large, void of that senior competition it’s great for players over the age of 23 to be able to take part in such a game.
Senior rep footy looked dead and buried when the open representative season was given an almighty shake-up at the end of 2016, resulting in the open championship being slashed to an under 23s tournament, a format that’s been in place now since 2017.
New Souths coach Wayne Bennett didn’t rule out a return to the Riverina next season, too, but did suggest coming back to the same region for a second year may not have the same impact.
“There are other towns chasing us to do the same so we will go somewhere next year,” Bennett said.
Hi, Wayne. Over here (insert waving emoji here). Head west!
There are other towns chasing us to do the same so we will go somewhere next year.Souths coach Wayne Bennett after the Rabbitohs successful regional hit-out at Albury.
While I’m a fan of the under 23s concept, senior rep footy is still the pinnacle level of rugby league you’ll see bush footballers take part in.
There’s stacks of quality in the Western region alone and I can’t help but think the change to the CRL’s rep structure came at the absolute worst time for Rams.
Pick a Western team right now – it’s tough, the quality is spread – and there’s a big chance the Rams progress deep into a senior country championship campaign, something the green and white hasn’t been able to do since 2004 when Dave Scott guided the cream of western’s crop to title success.
Why bother though? Hypotheticals are fun, but that’s all they ever are, right? Pub-talk teams, basically.
The appetite for senior rep footy is clearly there.
After not playing a senior game in 2017, last year Western returned its Group 10 and Group 11 open rep game and the quality was immense. The two toughest Group competitions in CRL will again square off in 2019, too.
So how do we go about properly nourishing the rep footy beast?
Continuing a rich western tradition and staging the inter-Group clash is a must, while getting in touch with Bennett about bringing the Bunnies out west would be a good start too.
Sure, it’s not like the old days when Western played host to a touring Great Britain at Wade Park.
But our best players – think Carney, Littlejohn, Starling, Dwyer, Chapman and co - all in the one team, against a top class opponent, that’d be a game many would flock to.
A potential senior Western side out of the players in the region leading into 2019:
1 SAM DWYER (Parkes Spacemen) – Best fullback in either Group.
2 JOHN GRANT (Cowra Magpies) – A former Aussie Sevens flier. Speed to burn.
3 JOSH TOOLE (Forbes Magpies) – Ex-international, played at 2013 World Cup. Marked up against Jarryd Hayne.
4 JYIE CHAPMAN (Dubbo CYMS) – A class act in the best team in western, for years.
5 JEREMY GORDON (Cowra Magpies) – picks himself.
6 WILLIE HETA (Orange Hawks) – Class.
7 JACK LITTLEJOHN (Mudgee Dragons) – Former NRL half.
8 JOSH STARLING (Oberon Tigers) – Former NRL prop.
9 WES MIDDLETON (Macquarie Raiders) – Ex-captain of the first nation Goannas.
10 BRENT SEAGER (Bathurst Panthers) – Hardest man in Western Division.
11 BEN MAGUIRE (Forbes Magpies) – Scores tries for fun, hard worker.
12 JUSTIN CARNEY (Nyngan Tigers) – Wrecking-ball.
13 ZAC MERRITT (Bathurst St Pat’s) – The complete player.
14 ETHAN McKELLAR (Orange Hawks) – best young prop in the region.
15 WARREN WILLIAMS (Cowra Magpies) – Unstoppable.
16 JARRYN POWYER (Dubbo CYMS) – hardest working prop in the region.
17 HAYDEN BOLAM (Forbes Magpies) – electric around the ruck.
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