Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
Melbourne chief John Ribot has questioned the validity of the City-Country rugby league match after top players were ruled out today for the second time in three years.
The NSW Rugby League today granted exemptions from the annual contest to its players who will front up in the Anzac Test against New Zealand.
But Ribot said the match was in danger of outliving its purpose if the game's officials continued to tinker with its format.
"I just think it dilutes the concept," Ribot said.
"It's a bit like having soccer at the Olympics, where it's only an under 23s competition."
Without top-line players participating, Ribot feels it's hard to see a function for the match.
"Is it (the City-Country match) serving any purpose?
"If someone can come up to me and say that the TV ratings are up, the gate receipts are up, we're getting kids in the country playing rugby league and the money is getting to the grass roots, you won't get any argument from me."
Braith Anasta, Craig Wing and Anthony Minichiello are among the City players set to miss out on this year's game, while Andrew Johns, Trent Barrett and Timana Tahu would be likely Country players sitting the game out.
In 2002 a squad of nine players, seen by NSW selectors as certainties to play in that year's Origin series, were not selected for the match, drawing plenty of flak at the time.
NSWRL chief executive Geoff Carr is steadfast that this year's situation is different to 2002.
Carr said the amount of football being played at that time of the year was instrumental in the board's decision, which does not affect Queensland Test players.
"We would have to have players in round seven (of the National Rugby League season) playing the Test match on the Friday and then backing up on the Sunday," Carr said.
"Then they would have to do it again in round nine for the City-Country game."
Carr said the rep season was "a big ask".
"The senior players in our game now play 80 minutes of football every week because they are so instrumental to their (club) teams," Carr said.
"The representative program now includes five extra games a year, which is a big ask."
Carr said that although the Test players were not available for City-Country this year, a lot of good players still could be selected, citing Brett Kimmorley - likely to replace Andrew Johns as Country halfback - as an example.
Ribot admitted there was merit to the scheduling argument, saying the problem was a tough one for everyone in the game.
"The placement of it is the biggest problem ... you've only got a short window (in the off season) to get players fit," he said.