Country Firsts v City Firsts

Country v City (Sydney) has long played a part in New South Wales sporting history, with the first traces of the concept being linked back as far as 1886. The then Southern Rugby Football Union (later to become NSWRU) would hold an annual “test match” between Combined Countrymen and Metropolis sides, with the match to be used by the organisation for picking players for NSW.

The concept took off and by the early 1900’s ‘Country Week” as it was titled became a major component of the Rugby Calendar. This rivalry between City and Country continued after Rugby League was formed in 1907, However, it took League till 1911 before its first recorded City v Country clash, there is some indication that a match may have been played in 1910, however most likely due to the code still in its infancy it is not of a high enough standard to be published in the media of the time.

The respective match was played on a laize-faire basis in League until 1928 when Country Rugby League and New South Wales Rugby League saw the value in making the tournament an annual match. This was understandable at the time for the League, as many areas in Country NSW had not even heard of League, let alone seen the code till closer to 1928.

Newcastle was the first to take up the code in 1909 in its own domestic competition, which was boosted by the participation of the “Rebels” in the NSWRL Sydney competition in 1908 and 1909, with Illawarra region soon to follow in 1910, but further out of Sydney it took longer for the code to start to make an impact.

By the time the match was made a permanent fixture, interest in the concept was high enough to make it sustainable. the only problem for the clash was it saw a large number of the best from Country Rugby League snapped up by the richer Sydney clubs, draining the regional representative sides, and as a result assisting City to dominate the concept.

It wasn’t till 1987 that the issue was addressed of ‘player drain’ especially with the recent inclusions of Canberra, Illawarra and Newcastle in the NSWRL competition. The Origin rule, which was also used to revive the State of Origin concept proved to be quite valuable in giving Country basis it has needed to be a lot more competitive outfit, it however wasn’t till 1992 that the men in Maroon and Gold recorded their first victory, however, in the new style of competition.

Country then won three out of the five years after their first Origin victory before the City v Country concept was cut from the representative scene (much like World Sevens and Kangaroo Tours) as a result of the Super League War.

The competition wasn’t revived again till four years later, when the National Rugby League saw a value in the match in terms of media exposure, television ratings as well as the merit in taking games to the bush