|Although this week’s first match in the 2006 State of Origin series features eleven players representing NSW that commenced their careers with clubs outside of Sydney, there are none chosen directly from country clubs.
That’s no great surprise given the changing nature of the modern game but back in the 1980s three players from the country were given the chance to strut their stuff on the stage many consider to be the most demanding of all.
The first players selected for an Origin match for NSW from a country club was Phillip Duke in 1982. He had caught the eye in Country’s annual match against Sydney and was thrown in the deep end for his debut, the deciding match of the series.
Played at the SCG, the match was a bruising and at times brutal affair with the kicking game of Wally Lewis guiding Queensland to a 10-3 lead at half time. The try for NSW came when Duke finished off an attacking raid for the Blues and scored a strong try in the corner.
One incident in the second half, however, marred the occasion for the Moree Boomerangs flanker. Another pin point accurate kick from Lewis trapped NSW fullback Phil Sigsworth in the in goal and he tried to pass to Duke. The ball went astray and Queensland swooped to wrap up the match and the series.
Nearly a quarter of a century after the event it is a moot point to try and allocate blame for the incident, but it ended Duke’s chances of gaining another Blue jersey.
A year later NSW selectors repeated the gamble when they gave Cootamundra’s Paul Field a chance in the second match of the series after the Maroons had won the first game in Brisbane. Field was one of six debutants for the Blues at the Sydney Cricket Ground for the second encounter, which threw up a backline with six out of seven positions filled by the champion Parramatta team.
Field (pictured right) was outstanding as NSW levelled the series with a gruelling 10-6 win in the mud. His defence was lethal and his work rate in attack was compared to his skipper, the legendary Ray Price.
The absence of Price in the decider, however, proved a telling blow for NSW and they were unable to cope with the Maroon onslaught at Lang Park. This was “The Cauldron” at its fiercest and the XXXX fuelled locals had plenty to cheer as Queensland swept NSW aside to win 43-22. Field again held his own, but it was a sorry night for the Blues and some big reputations took a severe battering.
Rex Wright was the final player to wear the sky blue jersey while playing under the banner of the Country Rugby League. He had been a member of Johnny King’s Country seconds team that posted a shock win over their City counterparts in the annual fixture of 1984 and was rewarded for his efforts with the NSW hooking role for the first match of that year’s State of Origin series.
Wright had a strong all round game but he and his team mates were no match for the sheer genius of Wally Lewis, who orchestrated Queensland’s 24-12 win. That was his only taste of State of Origin as he made way for another Country rake, one Royce Simmons, who made his debut in the second match and went on to a long career at the top level.
After his playing days, which included a successful stint with North Sydney, ended Wright took on a position as a trainer and has worked with many NRL clubs. He is currently working as a Development Officer with the ARL Affiliated States and is currently based in South Australia.