I couldn't have been more excited. After such a long long off-season, three rugby league games on the telly on a Saturday night! The Warriors were playing what was described as a trial game against the Warriors in Whangarei, then the annual Challenge Shield match between Souths and St George and finally the game between the Indigenous side and the World All-Stars. What a treat was in store for me after the drought period.
The Warriors trial featured few of their top players. Isaac Luke and Manu Vatuvei both played, neither of whom played in the Nines last week. The Gold Coast team was even weaker, being largely made up of players from the Queensland Cup competition. I later saw that the Titans were actually playing another trial, and that was where their first graders were playing!
The match itself was pretty dull and I did wonder how the good people of Northland - a rugby league stronghold - would have felt about it.
The Challenge Sheild match also reached no great heights. The Dragons and the Rabbitohs would be finalists for the diullest teams in the comp and I really should not have had high expectations for them.
the All-Stars game was only a little better. At one point in the second half, the radio commentary team from Triple M joked that a break made by one of the players was a first for the game. That may have been an exaggeration but I think the game suffered from the problem of players being brought in to work together in the highly structured style that every rugby league team has these days - but without the usual familiarity and pattern. It didn't help that both sides also had numerous withdrawals through the week.
The celebration of the Indigenous in rugby league clearly means a lot to that community and to at least some of the players. But it's hard to be certain that made-up sides really work as a spectacle. Perhaps it would be better if it was played more as a genuine festival/exhibition programme and the ball was thrown about without concern for the result?
One thing the game did prove was that Cameron Smith is already in top form. He really was the difference between the sides. Smith is a great player but I did wonder last season if he was perhaps past his best. On this performance that assessment may be very premature.