Bush footy far from dead, but investment a pressing need

IT WAS a bittersweet weekend for bush football – with the ripple of change reverberating from Mudgee to Bowraville, to North Queensland and across The Dutch.

There were some celebrated achievements, none more so than Kempsey’s Simone Smith (pictured with Greg Inglis from Nambucca), who debuted for the Jillaroos against the Kiwis on Friday night.

The rising profile of women playing what have been traditionally ‘male’ sports continues at breakneck speed – from rugby league and Australian football through to cricket and football (soccer).

But it wouldn’t be rugby league if there weren’t also some controversies in a sport renowned for self-mutilation.

In the spate of hours, three players and a leading club administrator were enmeshed in recreational drug allegations.

And there were headline injuries, most notably to Queensland Origin kingpin Johnathan Thurston.

At Mudgee, more than a few tears were spilt at the final City v Country Origin match.

Many fear this is the deathknell for footy in the Bush – a game which has failed to keep apace with rival codes and the motza of diversions for young people in the modern day.

In a packed game schedule and with dubious claims to being a genuine trial for NSW Origin, the City Country clash had reached its use-by date. But rather than a final, remorseful chapter in the story of rugby league in the country, the demise of this annual fixture can give rise to a renewed investment in the game outside of the metropolitan centres.

A positive way forward would be for each NRL club to partner with a Country League Group – and play at least one home fixture in that Group each season. This would give fans and players in country NSW, Queensland and Victoria, practical and affordable access to the elite tier of the sport.