Such was the strength of the national cricket side not so long ago that a team of players unable to make it was assembled to give them some semblance of a challenge.
It led to the formation of Australia A, a side of sufficient quality to edge out England and Zimbabwe from the finals of the 1994-95 one-day international series, before ultimately losing to the top squad.
David Klemmer was part of a full-strength Knights side that hammered the Roosters on Saturday night.Credit:NRL Photos
The exercise, aside from underscoring the hubris of cricket officials of the time, highlighted the depth of talent in the local game.
Fifteen years later, on a balmy night in Gosford, ‘Roosters A’ ran onto Central Coast Stadium. Not a single regular from the sides that won the past two premierships – or last weekend’s World Club Challenge – was selected for the last hit-out before the side’s title defence.
The Roosters of today are an outfit every bit as dominant as the Aussie cricket sides of the 1990s. So do they also have the depth to field a second side capable of competing at NRL level?
The theory was put to the test against a strong Newcastle outfit featuring the likes of Kalyn Ponga, Mitchell Pearce, David Klemmer, Daniel Saifiti, Aidan Guerra, Tim Glasby, Mitch Barnett and new recruit Jayden Brailey.
It was a night to forget for a youthful Roosters side in Gosford.Credit:NRL Photos
On paper, it was a mismatch. Between them, ‘Roosters A’ had only 39 games of first-grade experience between them, the majority coming courtesy of winger Matt Ikuvalu’s 14-game NRL stint.
Yet for 25 minutes, they held their own. ‘Roosters A’ kept the opposition scoreless for that period on the back of an even share of possession. Perhaps the search for a competitive 17th franchise in an expanded NRL competition had been found?
But they were soon put in their place. The Knights snuffed out any chance of a huge upset, pouring on 10 tries and 58 unanswered points.
It’s difficult to know what Newcastle should take out of the exercise. It is the first win under new coach Adam O’Brien, a much-needed result given the quality of the opposition and last week’s 38-12 drubbing at the hands of St George Illawarra.
It would have been a surreal experience for O’Brien. Last year he was part of the brains trust of the Roosters juggernaut, finishing off a coaching apprenticeship that also included a long stint under Craig Bellamy.
Now he was in the opposing coaching box to Robinson, trying to figure out the make up of his best team after defeating the premiers’ worst one.
Some of the performances would have pleased him. Ponga scored a try and had a hand in several others in his first run alongside new dummy-half Brailey. Ponga is contracted to the club for the next two years, but even now his future is headline fodder. Will he defect to the All Blacks? Perhaps a trade for Ardie Savea? ‘KP’ showed glimpses of why he is one of the most sought-after athletes in either code.
Gehamat Shibasaki, a new recruit from Brisbane, also made the highlights reel. He had to reach behind him while travelling at high speed to reel in the Steeden before scoring. Young playmaker Tex Hoy, just hours after being upgraded to a top-30 contract, also scored one of his side’s nine tries. Mitch Barnett finished with two.
It was a flogging, but ‘Roosters A’ would have got something out of this as well. It was an opportunity to impress the coach and gave them an indication of just how far they need to lift to break into the best rugby league side in the world.
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