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City v Country preview

City Origin v Country Origin
Glen Willow Oval, Mudgee
Sunday 3pm

Trust the annual City-Country clash to throw up its fair share of controversy. Who will be picked? Are we risking injuries? Is Queensland laughing at us? This year it is Newcastle hooker Danny Buderus at the centre of the furore following coach Wayne Bennett’s comments at the weekend that the veteran hooker shouldn’t have to represent Country Origin to prove himself for NSW. Predictably, Buderus was picked anyway and subsequently withdrew citing injury. Fun and games!

Ironically despite Buderus’ absence this year’s City-Country is the most intriguing in years – both for the many State of Origin selection questions that are yet to be answered and the sheer quality of player set to take the field.

Without doubt most interest surrounds who the NSW halves will be in 2012. A groin injury to in-form Brisbane halfback Peter Wallace means that it will be incumbent Mitchell Pearce facing off against Jarrod Mullen in the battle for the No.7 jersey, while Todd Carney’s stocks continue to rise with the Cronulla five-eighth starting alongside Mullen in the Country side. He is one of a number of contenders to don the No.6 for NSW this year alongside incumbent Jamie Soward and James Maloney; however the big surprise is Jarryd Hayne being named at five-eighth for City (with Lachlan Coote at fullback). A big game by the Parramatta custodian would certainly make for some tough decisions ahead for Blues coach Ricky Stuart.

Brothers Brett and Josh Morris will play together again for the first time since Josh left St George Illawarra at the end of the 2008 season, with the Canterbury centre facing off against City’s Chris Lawrence for the vacant NSW centre spot (alongside Michael Jennings).

Similarly, there are some huge clashes set to take place up front. Among those likely to be closely monitored by selectors are City trio Keith Galloway, who was a member of Australia’s Four Nations squad last year, Ryan Hoffman and Warriors star Feleti Mateo while the Country pack is a who’s who of the Blues’ current and future Origin stars. Their starting forwards include Michael Weyman, Ben Creagh, Beau Scott and Greg Bird while coming off the bench are impressive Dragons youngster Trent Merrin and North Queensland strike weapon Tariq Sims.

In total, six players are making their representative debuts in this year’s game: Jamie Buhrer, Joseph Leulia, Corey Payne, Josh McCrone, Tariq Sims and Aaron Woods. Also, Matt King returns to the Country Origin side for the first time since 2005.

Watch Out City: The City Origin forwards will have to be at their very best against a Country pack boasting six players whot took part in the 2011 State of Origin series. They include Michael Weyman, Beau Scott, Ben Creagh, Greg Bird, Trent Merrin and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, while young Cowboys forward Tariq Sims is among the top prospects in the NRL.

Danger Sign: Country Origin’s new halves pairing is certain to attract plenty of interest with Todd Carney and Jarrod Mullen among the form players in the Telstra Premiership. Carney in particular has enjoyed a stunning career resurgence in 2012 and has been a key factor behind Cronulla’s long-awaited revival. Carney has produced four try assists and five line-break assists in 2012 while Mullen has contributed two try assists, four line-breaks and three tries for Newcastle.

Watch Out Country: City Origin hooker Robbie Farah has a point to prove after a tough start to the season that has seen him fall out of favour with NSW State of Origin selectors. Locked in a tight battle for the Blues’ No.9 jersey with Michael Ennis for the past three seasons, the return from England of Danny Buderus has seen Farah slip further down the pecking order while Melbourne utility forward Ryan Hinchcliffe – his opposite number this week – is also known to have moved past him. A big game from Farah in this one would send a timely reminder of what he has to offer.

Danger Sign: The reunion of Feleti Mateo and Jarryd Hayne in the City Origin line-up is potentially a match-winning combination. Mateo is renowned for creating second-phase play and it was that ability to promote the football and the irrepressible form of Hayne that propelled Parramatta to the 2009 grand final. The Warriors back-rower has topped the NRL offload count three times in the past four years, including a career-best 85 offloads in 2011. Hayne, too, is at his best when able to capitalise on second-phase and broken-play situations. Despite the Eels’ woes this year, and having played only three full games, Hayne has scored a team-high four tries, made four line-breaks and averaged 163 metres per game.

Todd Carney v Jarryd Hayne: By far the most thrilling individual match-up on the park this Sunday, the contributions of respective five-eighths Carney and Hayne will go a long way towards determining their sides’ fortunes. Both are attack-minded players with the ability to create opportunities for team-mates or hurt the opposition with a scything run.

Where It Will Be Won: Execution will be the key. With players looking to impress in the lead-up to State of Origin, there will be no holding back here and we expect to see an expansive contest. It will come down to who executes their plays better on the night.

The History: Played 22; City 12, Country 9, drawn 1. Although City Origin holds the advantage long-term, they have won just four of their past 10 clashes. A win by Country Origin this week would see them record three consecutive victories for the first time.

The Last Time They Met: Country secured a tight encounter 18-12 in Albury. In a low-scoring first half, it was City that opened the scoring after seven minutes when Beau Champion stepped inside his defender on the right edge to score. However, Country would take a narrow 6-4 half-time lead after Michael Gordon out-jumped Jarryd Hayne to collect a Jarrod Mullen bomb and fall across the line.

Hayne made amends shortly after half-time when he ran onto a Mitchell Pearce pass and powered his way over the line despite the attention of three defenders. Another well-timed Pearce pass sent Simon Dwyer over in the 54th minute although winger Nathan Merritt’s horror night with the boot kept Country within striking distance at 12-6 down.

Merritt’s none-from-three record came back to bite City when Ryan Hinchcliffe pushed his way over from dummy-half to level the scores with 16 minutes remaining.

Country then launched a series of attacking raids that saw them come close, with Michael Gordon breaking clear only to lose the ball in the cover tackle and Josh Dugan making a break and kicking ahead but failing to win the race against Hayne.

In the end their winning try came in unusual circumstances as City chipped over the top but failed to regather, with Country back-rower Chris Houston gathering the kick in instead and passing out to Akuila Uate who had too much pace for the defence in a 60-metre run to the line.

Match Officials: Referees – Gerard Sutton & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Adam Reid and Jason Walsh; Video Referee – Bernard Sutton.

The Way We See It: These games are always somewhat of a lottery but we like the look of the Country forward pack as well as their halves pairing of Carney and Mullen. This could well prove to be a high-scoring affair but we tip Country to sneak home on the back of their attacking brilliance.

Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 4pm.

•    Statistics: NRL Stats

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