Opening up: Western’s best would win it all

CRUSHED: Western's forwards led the Rams to a crushing victory over FIRLA on Saturday, with Chris Bamford and Tui Oloapu two of Darren Jackson's best. Photo: PHIL BLATCH
CRUSHED: Western's forwards led the Rams to a crushing victory over FIRLA on Saturday, with Chris Bamford and Tui Oloapu two of Darren Jackson's best. Photo: PHIL BLATCH

Sometimes, in fact most of the time, really, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

And Saturday’s 50-12 performance from an open Western Division side left me wanting so much more from the Rams.

But we won’t see it.

At the end of last season, the Country Rugby League took the somewhat radical step of abolishing its open representative footy program in favour of an under 23s championship, which had its maiden run in the winter just gone.

I get the idea: give kids a shot in front of some NRL scouts on a rep stage and there’s potential to forge careers at the top.

As a concept, it’s got serious merit.

But you only ever get a handful of good players make representative teams at an under 23s level – it’s not out-and-out brilliant.

That handful of good players would almost certainly make an open team as well.

So, it begs the question: why can’t we just have the absolute best represent in each region?

Saturday’s Western first grade squad wasn’t even the absolute best side the Rams could potentially field.

But the likes Orange CYMS’ Chris Bamford and Oberon’s Tui Oloapu combining in the green and white was as thrilling to watch as it would have been frightening for the Federation of Italia Rugby League Australia boys trying to tackle them.

Brent Seager. Sam Dwyer. Jackson Brien. Todd Munn – great players getting a crack at the top level.

There has to be an avenue to give anyone 24 or older the chance to play a bit of rep footy.

The timing of the age cap wasn’t great for Western either, with 2017’s squad possibly the strongest open team the Rams could have named since winning the country championship in 2003.

There’s a massive chance 2018 would be better again, too.

A host of Group 11’s best players weren’t available for the weekend’s thrashing of a FIRLA outfit with players on the cusp of being named in the Azzurri’s World Cup squad.

You can almost bet FIRLA officials are currently trying to work out if Rams wrecking ball Bamford was ever rolled some gnocchi to be deemed eligible for the Italians come October’s tournament against the world’s best – Cristoforo Bamonte, it has a nice ring to it.

Or just get the Rams into the World Cup instead.

If Western can’t play in the country championships, surely there’s a spot in a group alongside the Cook Islands or the USA that the Rams could occupy. 

Not convinced? Check out the line-up below – it’s as good a side you’ll see out of a country region. 

It’s just a shame we won’t get to see it.


1 Sam Dwyer (Parkes Spacemen) – First picked. Gets better at every level of footy.

2 Ash Widders (Dubbo Macquarie) – I’ve never seen anyone move as fast as Flash Widders. 

3 Jeremy Gordon (Bathurst Panthers) – X-factor personified. Could play any position in the backs.

4 Jyie Chapman (Dubbo CYMS) – One of the best hit-and-spins in bush footy. Incredibly tough player.

5 Ben McAlpine (Oberon Tigers) – Has won everything. A NSW Country-calibre player. 

6 Willie Heta (Orange Hawks) – Arguably the best half running around in bush footy.

7 Alex Bonham (Dubbo CYMS) – Scores points for fun.

8 Chris Bamford (Orange CYMS) – Incredible. Size, speed, and footwork. The complete package.

9 Reece Goldsmith (Nyngan Tigers) – In the Michael Ennis mold. Craftier than a Spotlight warehouse. 

10 Brent Seager (Bathurst Panthers) – Consistently the best forward in Group 10. Make him captain.

11 Tui Oloapu (Oberon Tigers) – A revelation late in season 2017 – nearly carried Oberon to the title.

12 Stewart Mills (Nyngan Tigers) – Beef Stew! Would tear it up in the backrow in this team.

13 Jake Grace (Forbes Magpies) – Uncompromising. Leads from the front, everyone follows. 

14 Zac Merrit (Forbes Magpies) – Would provide plenty of punch off the pine.

15 Jarryn Powyer (Dubbo CYMS) – Arguably the best prop in Group 11.

16 Ryan Griffin (Orange CYMS) – Speed to burn.

17 Josh Starling – Watch. This. Space.


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