NRL at Oakes
By STEVE SPINKS
DESPITE missing out on the City v Country Origin game next year, Northern Rivers rugby league fans will still get a taste of top-level football when NRL clubs Parramatta and Cronulla play a trial match in Lismore.
The Eels and Sharks have agreed to play the trial on February 7 under lights at Oakes Oval, which is ironic considering it was the ground that was supposed to host the City v Country match.
It will be the second consecutive year the two Sydney-based clubs have played a trial on the Northern Rivers.
Earlier this year, Parramatta and Cronulla played before a full house at Kingsford Smith Park, Ballina.
More than 8000 NRL-starved spectators crammed into the ground.
The teams agreed to play in Lismore following a chance meeting with Group One president Robin Harley.
"I was in New Zealand with the NSW Country Under-18s earlier this year and the Eels were there to play the Warriors at the same time," he said.
"I know Brian Smith (Eels coach) and they were staying at the same motel.
"I spoke to Smithy about it and he told me to get on to Tony Zappia (Eels football manager) and it all went from there."
Harley is very happy the two teams have decided to head north again, especially after missing out on the City v Country match.
"Our intent is to put on a showcase for night footy and the best place for that is Oakes Oval," he said.
"Proceeds will be split between Group One clubs (including the new clubs from Group 18)."
The Eels plan to arrive on the Thursday before the Saturday game and the Sharks will arrive on the Friday.
Both have indicated their willingness to get out to local schools and clubs, and will field NRL-strength teams.
Lismore went close to earning the right to host the 2005 City v Country match.
However, The Northern Star revealed last Saturday that because of North Queensland's dream run in the NRL finals, the City v Country Origin match will be played at Aussie Stadium in Sydney.
Aussie Stadium was the ground drawn to host the Cowboys v Brisbane Broncos semi-final.
The NRL moved that game to Townsville after the Cowboys' upset win over the Bulldogs because it was an all-Queensland semi-final.
Because the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust is contracted to host a certain number of games each year, it was offered the City v Country game as a replacement.
The Parramatta v Cronulla trial game will kick off at 7pm, with a preliminary game between the Northern Rivers Academy and the Redcliffe Development Squad.