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What makes us cheer for one team and loathe another? Family tradition? A favourite player? Where we live? Where we grew up?

For a little girl growing up on an orchard just outside Orange, in the Central West of New South Wales, rugby league was all about Sunday afternoons at Wade Park watching the mighty Orange CYMS. Teams like Parramatta and Balmain were from another world, confined to the television, unreachable.

Two of my big brothers pulled on the CYMS green and gold, much to the delight of my grandfather Jim. One of my favourite photos is of my mud-covered brother Terry after a victorious Group 10 grand final, flanked by my beaming mother on one side and Grandpa on the other, a proud twinkle in his eye as he raises a fist in the air in a celebratory salute.

I may now live in Sydney, but with that background, it doesn’t take a genius to work out which side I’ll be cheering for in the Country v City clash. I care about the game in it’s own right and how it connects the elite level of the sport to the bush. Like a lot of country kids, I didn’t see an NRL match live until I moved to the city. Just think about that for a moment. Especially if you’ve always had a Parramatta Stadium, or a Kogorah, or a Lang Park within an hour’s travel. No local fan days, or school clinics, or signing sessions at a shopping centre. The greatest players of the game live within the confines of a two-dimensional rectangular box in the corner of the living room. A bit like movie stars, chart-toppers, and other famous and nebulous people who have nothing to do with our day-to-day existence.

The pre-season community carnival goes some way towards rectifying this, along with pre-season trials, although those matches often don’t feature the visiting clubs’ biggest name players. Suggestions of NRL clubs taking fixtures to regional areas seem to be just talk for now. In the meantime the best young players from country areas are lost to their hometown clubs, signing with agents at a young age, and chasing the NRL dream in the big smoke. Most won’t make it, but few ever return to bush footy, perhaps embarrassed and disillusioned, and are lost to the game forever. This trend is bleeding the country talent pool dry at a time when clubs struggle to survive from year to year.

So yeah. This game means something to me because I can imagine what it might mean to fans, young and old, who’ve seen an NRL player in the flesh for the first time this week in Coffs Harbour, and who will watch them lock horns under an open sky. Do you think they’ll be fussed about who’s leading the race for NSW jerseys? Bugger that. I reckon they’ll just be hoping the boys from the bush can get one over the city slickers. It’s just a shame they won’t see some players who, perhaps, would be there but for club self-interest.

Hang on. There are a couple of other matches this weekend right? Are they State of Origin trials too? Surely if we keep going down the road towards an Origin All Stars shootout, that’s exactly what we should make the Anzac Test. Hey – apparently there’s a World Cup on later this year! After the final, why don’t we let Cameron Smith and Paul Gallen take turns picking their favourite players from the tournament and colour them maroon and blue. We can just change the eligibility rules. After all no one really cares about something so trivial as representing their country. Not compared to the old mate against mate mantra.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Origin and despite the results of the past seven years I’m happy to ride that wave each time it comes around. But rugby league itself means more to me. And unless the game is content to be a big deal in two states of Australia and nowhere else it has to pay more attention to the international game, particularly as other sports encroach on the traditional league heartlands.

Internationals sustain rugby union and ensure the global dominance of soccer. The ARU must wonder where all the die-hard rugger fans come from to snap up tickets for the upcoming Lions tour at a frenetic rate. Imagine what the AFL would do if they had an international competition to market.

Recently a NSW fan told me he hates Queensland more than he hates New Zealand, so he can’t get as excited about test matches. That’s where Origin has really screwed up the proper order of things. The highest honour for any player should be to represent his or her country on the world stage and that should be reflected by the support of the average fan.

That’s how it used to be for me, anyway. Before I became a turncoat. As soon as I had a degree and enough money for a flight, I headed off to England and found myself becoming intimately acquainted with the motorways as part of the Super League production team at Sky Sports.  After working on so many matches, and getting to know people involved at every level of the game, something strange happened. When a touring Australian team arrived I found myself cheering against them. Passionately.

The British players had become real people to me, the fans amazed me with their love for a game that struggles to crack the soccer-obsessed national media, and I realized that victory against the Kangaroos would mean so much more in the UK than it ever would in Australia. Unpatriotic, I know, but I discovered the game has great traditions and stories in countries like France and Wales. Rugby league history and pride isn’t just confined to the exploits of Dally Messenger and an argument over which came first – Newtown or Glebe.

In the 2008 World Cup my transformation to traitor was complete. I found myself doing the unthinkable. Cheering for the Kiwis against Australia for the same reasons.  (I should perhaps point out this doesn’t occur in any other sport, especially cricket) The dismissive and seemingly arrogant nature of popular Australian comment (a waste of time, let’s just carve Australia’s name on the trophy – but can we get another interview with that Wayne Kerr bloke in the Irish team? What a hoot!) infuriated me enough to cross the ditch, spiritually anyway.

It will be the same in this Anzac Test. With an injury-ravaged squad, and an unimpressive record in this one-off match, the Kiwis may be up against it but I’m in their corner.  They are the world champions after all – Australia can’t excuse apathy by claiming to have the best rugby league team on the planet. I dream of a time when a strong international competition, supported by the mainstream media, means I can once more oi oi oi along with the best of them.

One huge victory for the international game is the staging of the Tonga v Samoa match in Penrith. Rugby League takes so much from the Pacific Island nations. It’s way past time it started giving something back. It’s been so heartening to see more high profile footballers electing to play for countries like Fiji and Samoa in a World Cup year. Hopefully we will see a time where meaningful international fixtures are both visually and financially as rewarding as Origin. I’m struggling to pick a team to cheer on for this one – I’m just happy they’re playing.

So there you go. I’m an Australian living in the city of Sydney, but the only teams I won’t be cheering for are Australia and City. Oh – but I will be behind the mighty Orange CYMS. They do wear green and gold.

Does that count?