Give back to the country

The NRL isn’t repaying country rugby league, writes LLOYD SCROOPE...

THEY spend $4.4 million on their players yet won’t pay $1700 for a bus or a few thousand dollars for sufficient hotel rooms.

Don’t be fooled, the Canberra Raiders and Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs aren’t contributing a cent to tomorrow’s NRL trial.

Instead the buck stops with host club the Workers Bulldogs, who’ve forked out nearly $30,000 hosting the event.

While the Bulldogs and Raiders are doing the profile of the game locally a favour, they wouldn’t be doing so if they’re weren’t treated like kings.

Not only does the host club pay for transport and accommodation, they’re in charge of the Canterbury Bulldogs catering.

Upon arrival today, the 2012 NRL grand finalists will be given lunch. They’ll be provided with a light afternoon tea and dinner at the Men of League function tonight.

They’ll wake up to breakfast, enjoy lunch tomorrow and dine out on a pre-game energyfilled meal.

And it doesn’t end there. Players will board the bus back to Sydney with a dish of spaghetti bolognaise in one hand and a chicken wrap in the other.

Employees at the Workers Club will spend most of the day preparing their visitors’ meals.

Admittedly the Workers Bulldogs ought to make a neat profit from the fixture, but it begs the question, what ever happened to the NRL bringing the game to the regions? An NRL spokesman has assured me trial matches are the responsibility of individual clubs.

“Clubs organise their own trials. It’s an arrangement they set,” the spokesman said.

“All the clubs get to determine where they take games. There’s a lot of areas that campaign, so it’s a matter of finding something that works for everyone.

“We cover matches that are under our control.” But that doesn’t excuse the NRL of all its decisions.

The code has not long agreed to terms with a lucrative television deal, much of which has gone to inflating the salaries of already overpaid players.

Senior footballers in the country, meantime, still play each weekend in the knowledge an injury could cost them dearly in terms of their day job.

The Country Rugby League pushed the NRL to cover senior footballers’ insurance with surplus money from their multi-billion dollar television deal. Their request fell on deaf ears.

Now, it seems, two of the game’s most exciting clubs won’t even play a game of football within close confines of home without a semiprofessional country league club forking out all of the cash.

Many of the game’s greatest players hail from country regions. Andrew Johns, Laurie Daley, Darren Lockyer, Clive Churchill, Reg Gasnier, Johnny Raper and Mal Meninga, among many others, are from areas outside our major cities.

In fact, in the ARL’s Team of the Century, only six players are direct products of the Sydney and Brisbane league systems.

Tomorrow’s teams are choc-full-of country raised league players. Reigning Dally M medallist Ben Barba, Bulldogs skipper Michael Ennis, NSW centre Josh Morris and Raiders halfback Josh McCrone, some of the biggest stars set to take the Workers Arena field, are from areas outside of Sydney and Brisbane.

Perhaps it’s time the NRL, and its 16 clubs, looked beyond salaries, crowd figures and television ratings. It’s time to give back to the country.

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