City-Country swansong historic moment for Northern Rivers

8th May 2017 12:30 PM
Anthony Don of Country is tackled by Jacob Marketo, (left), and Paul Gallen of City during the City v Country Origin rugby league match at Glen Willow Regional Sports Stadium in Mudgee, Sunday, May 7, 2017. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY Anthony Don of Country is tackled by Jacob Marketo, (left), and Paul Gallen of City during the City v Country Origin rugby league match at Glen Willow Regional Sports Stadium in Mudgee, Sunday, May 7, 2017. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY DAN HIMBRECHTS

RUGBY LEAGUE: While the final City Country Origin clash was the curtain call of a 108-year NRL legacy, it also provided a historic moment for rugby league on the NSW North Coast with the entire country backline emerging from the region.

Former Grafton Ghosts flyer Anthony Don took up one wing, while Ballina's Brian Kelly stood on the opposite side. Country captain Mitch Aubusson switched to the centres on game day and is also a former Seagull, as was halfback Tyrone Roberts.

Country Origin pivot Cody Walker is a former Casino Cougar, while both Cheyse Blair and Michael Gordon hail from border towns Tweed Heads and Bilambil.

Don added to his growing resume with a try on his representative debut, but it was not enough to lift the Country side as they went down 20-10 in front of 8,000 people at Mudgee.

NSW Country's Northern Rivers products (from left) Cody Walker, Brian Kelly, Cheyse Blair, Michael Gordon, Anthony Don, Mitch Aubusson and Tyrone Roberts.
NSW Country's Northern Rivers products (from left) Cody Walker, Brian Kelly, Cheyse Blair, Michael Gordon, Anthony Don, Mitch Aubusson and Tyrone Roberts. Gregg Porteous/News Ltd
It was a moment the Northern Rivers will not soon forget, and for NRRRL under-23 representative coach Max Beecher, it was a moment he hopes inspires the next generation of country kids.

"It is really good, it inspires all the other young kids to know that they have come through the same system and that they're playing for the same club that these players once played for," said Beecher, who coached both Kelly and Walker as juniors.

With the passion of rugby league evident in regional communities across the North Coast, Beecher admitted there is no better nursery for homegrown talent than in the bush.

Gold Coast Titans football manager, and former Murwillumbah Mustangs junior, Anthony Laffranchi said the Northern Rivers was a region the Gold Coast side had been targeting for a number of years.

"I wouldn't know the number of NRL players that have come out of (the Northern Rivers) but it is such a great area and it is a big area for talent," he said, adding the game "brought everyone together" here.

"It's something that we as the Titans really earmark as a great catchment area for us.

"(We have) our recruitment and development guys go down and actually deliver some rugby league programs to those areas and I suppose stipulate and identify that there is a pathway from the Northern Rivers to come and play at the Titans."

 

Anthony Don of Country breaks through a tackle by Chad Townsend of City during the City v Country Origin rugby league match at Glen Willow Regional Sports Stadium in Mudgee, Sunday, May 7, 2017. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Anthony Don of Country breaks through a tackle by Chad Townsend of City during the City v Country Origin rugby league match at Glen Willow Regional Sports Stadium in Mudgee, Sunday, May 7, 2017. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY DAN HIMBRECHTS

But in a world where bush football is being presented with more and more challenges, a call has been put out to the NRL to better support country towns - especially as the traditional City-Country fixture is now set for the scrap heap.

Beecher is one of the voices to lead the push for the regions, with the veteran coach putting his faith behind the future of league in the bush.

"Honestly the NRL has just got to come and have a look at what rugby league means to country areas," Beecher said. "The more you take away from country rugby league, the less it is going to have that value to people.

"For them to get rid of it (City-Country), I just thought it is a sad part of rugby league these days that it is more a commercial avenue than a game."