The chaotic nature of rugby league on the border of New South Wales and Queensland was never more graphically illustrated than by the City v Country match played at the Sydney Football Stadium on Anzac Day, 1990.
The match was a curtain raiser to the City v Country Origin clash, with the Origin sides chosen entirely from the then New South Wales Rugby League, Winfield Cup competiton.
The Origin match was cut and dried. The players on both sides were vying for places in the New South Wales State of Origin side. No-one in those two sides could ever play for Queensland.
As for the curtain raiser?
What a dog’s breakfast.
The ‘New South Wales Country’ side included the likes of Terry Cook from the Beaudesert club, the same Terry Cook who had toured France with Queensland Residents the year before and would go on to play Origin for Queensland in 1995, from the South Queensland Crushers.
Now, I must confess to a ‘vested interest’ here. As a former bush footballer in New South Wales, it was a dream of mine to play for Country. It was never going to happen, but a man must set goals.
It didn’t sit well with me to see blokes from Beaudesert, Runaway Bay and Burleigh Heads playing for New South Wales Country in 1990.
Country was a team that should have been made up of blokes from places like Narromine, Harden, Wagga, Wingham, Nambucca Heads, Maitland and Tamworth.
How did this come about?
Well, as I discovered while writing a History of Rugby League on the Gold Coast and Northern Rivers, at the request of Titans’ Head of Culture, Mal Meninga, a lot of people are still unable to clearly explain the confusing state of affairs that operated for some time (and still does) in a footy competition that was bisected by a line on a map.
I spoke to a number of officials to get accurate records of what teams participated, and in what years, but it was difficult to come up with a cut and dried response.
Suffice to say, that, at different times there were affiliations with both the Queensland Rugby League and New South Wales Country, and that is why players like Cook, Richard Rice (Runaway Bay) and Brett Walters (Burleigh Heads) were chosen for NSW Country.
Queensland Rugby League managing director, Ross Livermore was livid.
Technically, the Country selectors were within their rights to pick the ‘Coast’ players, but if they were fair dinkum they would have chosen real country boys. I regarded the 1990 team as an insult to the likes of Jimmy Hayes, Gary Dobrich, Glen Stewart, Graeme Atherton, Tom Searle and Geoff Hampson, Far North Coast players from my era, who all played for Country.
Anyway, that 1990 Country side went quite well against a City team that included Geoff Toovey and Brad Fittler making their representative debuts.
City won 38-26 with South Sydney’s Graham Lyons scoring four tries. Jason Edwards, a 19-year-old winger, from Toronto Workers (Newcastle) scored four tries for Country, and went on to play for Newcastle Knights.
In the Origin match, City defeated Country 28-26, with the highlight a try by City hooker, Ben Elias with the ball going through 13 sets of hands and covering 100 metres.
1 Traditional City v Country
2 Country Seconds 1970, including Glen Stewart from Murwillumbah Old Boys
3 NSW Country on tour in New Zealand
4 Terry Cook.