COUNTRY Rugby League officials are furious at what they see as Wayne Bennett's influence in the withdrawal of Danny Buderus from the State of Origin trial, saying "the game should be bigger than any club coach".
Buderus remains the frontrunner for the NSW hooker's job despite pulling out of the Country team, citing a long-standing Achilles tendon complaint. The 34-year-old was holidaying in Adelaide when the squad assembled in Sydney yesterday.
The incumbent Blues No.9, Michael Ennis, declined a belated invitation to play in Mudgee on Sunday as Buderus's replacement because of a groin injury, and the Dragons' Mitchell Rein, the next option, was ruled out by his club with a pectoral injury. Country ultimately called in Canberra halfback Josh McCrone, with Ryan Hinchcliffe to start at hooker.
On the other side of the fence, City captain Robbie Farah declared he would play despite suffering concussion in the Wests Tigers' 30-0 win over Penrith on Sunday.
Country chairman of selectors Jock Colley told the Herald he was unaware of Buderus's injury when they named their team on Sunday night, and was disappointed at the role he says was played by Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett. The Knights coach said last Friday that Buderus should not have to play City-Country to prove his credentials as an Origin player.
"No club coaches should tell their players that they're unavailable," Colley said. "Whether it's Wayne Bennett or Craig Bellamy or Ricky Stuart, they've got to put their club interests first [but] the game should be bigger than any club coach or club administrator. The game should be the paramount concern.
"I think he's just looked at it in an individual case, and I suppose he believes 'Bedsy' playing an extra game would hurt his club. That's fine - he's entitled to that opinion, and I respect that opinion, but the game is bigger overall than that. I'm just disappointed at what occurred."
Colley said he held nothing against Buderus as a great Country servant of the past, and hoped "common sense" might prevail after they announced him as captain on Sunday night. The Buderus saga comes with the new ARL Commission yet to decide whether the City-Country concept will be retained.
"Danny Buderus is a bloke who has given great service to Country. He's been great, just maybe there are outside influences that enter into the equation and influence his decision," Colley said.
"If [the injury] is a genuine case, that's fine. But if it's not a genuine case, it's just disappointing."
NSW coach Ricky Stuart said he knew Buderus was carrying an injury, and his absence in Mudgee would not have ramifications on Origin selection. Stuart has rung Ennis and Farah and told them the former Blues skipper is leading the race to be the NSW No.9 in Origin I at Etihad Stadium on May 23.
"Everyone knows the character of Danny Buderus," Stuart said. "He wouldn't be telling an untruth. I respect Danny Buderus for what he's done for Country and NSW over the years, and he deserves that respect."
Country coach Laurie Daley said he expected Buderus would be picked at hooker for NSW, if fit. Greg Bird was named Country captain following his withdrawal.
"I spoke to Bedsy this morning, and I understood his situation," Daley said. "He told me that he had an Achilles, and it's been an ongoing issue for him for a while. We didn't know about the injury.
"He said he wanted to play, and he feels bad, but he also knows that he'd be letting us down by waiting and waiting and then getting to Friday and having to pull out."
Farah, meanwhile, appeared resigned to the fact that Buderus is Stuart's No.1 choice but said he was desperate to lead City for different reasons. Forced to leave Centrebet Stadium prematurely on Sunday with concussion, he is nonetheless intent on playing in Mudgee.
"It would take a lot to stop me from playing this game this week," Farah said."This could possibly be the last City-Country game, so for us it's about making sure we have the shield in our trophy cabinet to keep forever.
" I've spoken to Ricky - I know his position … and where things stand. For me it's about playing some good footy over the next month and just trying to put as much pressure on him as possible."
In other changes, Parramatta prop Mitchell Allgood was called up by City after Keith Galloway and Jason King withdrew with injury. Bryce Gibbs is elevated from 18th man.