Dogs' rep ban could haunt stars, says Brad Fittler
BRAD Fittler has warned Canterbury's decision to exclude its stars from the final City-Country fixture could hinder their chances come NSW Origin selection time.
Bulldogs CEO Raelene Castle has advised the NRL that with a four-day turnaround between Sunday week's rep clash in Mudgee and the club's home game against the Cowboys the following Thursday, none of Des Hasler's players will be made available for City-Country selection.
The club says the decision has been made in the interests of the players' welfare, which City coach Fittler, Country counterpart Craig Fitzgibbon and head office are all sympathetic to.
NRL officials remain hopeful that any player who genuinely wants to play in the 89th and final City-Country Origin will be able to, and privately it has been pointed out that clubs often have their stars back up within 48 hours of an Origin clash.
It's understood there are no hard and fast rules in the game's current Collective Bargaining Agreement around players' availability for rep fixtures, though there is an expectation withdrawals are made on legitimate grounds.
In-form five-eighth Josh Reynolds remains down the Blues pecking order, but Canterbury's blanket ban would rule him out of a potential audition in City colours on Sunday, May 7.
Regular NSW performers Josh Jackson and the Morris twins are understood not to have been in contention for Fitzgibbon's Country team given they have proven themselves at rep level, while David Klemmer will be available for Kangaroos duty on May 5.
Fittler has been vocal about a lack of club support for rep football, and said the Bulldogs' stance could have repercussions at Laurie Daley's selection table.
"The big thing for Laurie this year is he came out publicly and said there are (52) players that could be in his State of Origin team," Fittler said on EON Sports Radio on Tuesday morning.
"If they don't want to put their hand up then there's a good chance, Laurie's that sort of bloke that'll say 'well they don't want to be part of the system'.
"I saw the note from Raelene Castle ... if that's the case then I understand given the short turnaround but if it's not in the CBA then you wonder if it's a Josh Jackson, does (NSW selection) come down to it? I know Laurie's a huge fan of him but ... we'll see."
The City-Country clash will be scrapped at the end of the season after a continued lack of support across club land.
Last season, however, Raiders mentor Ricky Stuart and Dragons opposite Paul McGregor made eight players available between them for last year's fixture in Tamworth, despite their club sides lining up again four days later at Kogarah.
Country reps Jack Wighton, Jarrod Croker, Shannon Boyd, Paul Vaughan, Tyson Frizell, Euan Aitken and Jack de Bellin, as well as City's Aidan Sezer, all took an NRL-chartered flight back to Sydney after the Sunday match, along with Eels and Rabbitohs players.
At the urging of Stuart and the RLPA, interchanges were also increased from eight to 12 to ease player welfare concerns.
The NRL is willing to make similar provisions "to ensure that the best available players are playing representative football", a spokesman said.
Country coach and Roosters assistant Fitzgibbon understands Canterbury's concerns, but conceded it will be a "shame" if any player misses out on a rep jumper.
"It's not the club's fault, it's the draw and the RLPA was kicking up a stink about it last year, which was fair enough," Fitzgibbon said.
"Last year Canberra and the Dragons gave us their players to use, which was great from Ricky and Paul McGregor.
"If you're a player I'm sure you'd be disappointed to miss a rep jumper, especially as it's the last year.
"But they do have to do a job for Canterbury, and they have to look after themselves.
"I'm sitting on the fence a bit, I work in club land as well so I have sympathy for the clubs in this position.
"It's a shame if someone doesn't get selected for the last one but if that's the rules, that's the rules."