Orange product Jack Wighton knows first-hand the impact of top level games in regional areas. Credit: Robb Cox. Copyright: NRL Photos
When the Country boys arrived in Orange five years ago there was a kid on the hill sitting on the rug with his family dreaming one day of sharing that very stage.
Truth be told, there were hundreds of youngsters at Wade Park thinking the exact same thing but on the Wightons' family rug perched on the greasy slope on a chilly May night, there was a 16-year-old destined to join rugby league's elite.
Now, rather than watching Beau Scott, Jarrod Mullen and James McManus from afar, Wighton will line up alongside them as a Country Origin teammate for the second straight year.
Wighton's memories of growing up in a rugby league family in the New South Wales Central West are hardly what you would call vivid, more patchwork recollections that shaped a young man into the NRL star he has become.
There were the days playing junior footy in the snow; a visit by Raiders players when he was in Year 4; and mateships that endured even a switch from Orange Hawks to bitter cross-town rivals Orange CYMS in his teenage years.
He and his family went to watch the Raiders dispose of the Broncos in a pre-season trial in 2008 and having lived it, knows what Sunday's clash with City Origin means to the people of regional areas.
"It's always good getting out to play in a country town. It makes it more special to them, getting a game like this," Wighton says from an autograph-signing session in Dubbo. "They all love it and they all come.
"We had Broncos-Raiders [in Orange] and we also had Country a few years ago, just before I moved down to Canberra.
"It was just family and a couple of mates. It was just the atmosphere and all the family sitting out on the rugs on the hill. It was a great night."
Little more than a month after watching his heroes run around, Wighton was further emphasising his burgeoning talent when he earned man-of-the-match honours in the Group 10 under-16s team's victory at the Country Championships.
Although members of that team such as Doug Hewitt, Jeff Lynch, Jack Siejka and Blake Seager have also spent time in NRL systems, Wighton is the only one to have played first grade to date, a mere formality according to former coach Paul Larsen.
"He was a real good kid and always had the talent and I thought he would go all the way. Credit to him, he's worked hard obviously," said Larsen, who along with legendary Group 10 forward Kip Maranda guided the boys to consecutive Country Championship wins in under-15s and under-16s.
"He played as he's playing now. He was a very big hitter, a very strong defender, great step and very quick, and that's what he's doing at the Raiders.
"They were actually a team of stars those boys, there were a lot of good players there. He is the only one to have played first grade but a lot of them played 20s."
In 35 NRL career games to date, 21-year-old Wighton has played 14 games on the wing, 13 at centre and eight this year at five-eighth, and Larsen for one was not surprised to see Raiders coach Ricky Stuart shift him closer to the action in 2014.
"He was a five-eighth for us and I always thought he'd end up there because it suited him down to the ground. He's pretty good with the ball in his hands," said Larsen
"He was a great kid and always listened and had a lot of fun with him too."
The friends and family of that 'great kid' will make the two-hour journey from Orange to Dubbo to cheer on the Country boys again on Sunday and while there may be an empty spot on the rug on the hill, the sense of pride when Wighton runs out will be overwhelming.