Wade Park, Orange
New South Wales State of Origin spots go on the line in the New South Wales country town of Orange as City Origin takes on Country Origin.
In the past the game has been debated heavily as to how ‘fair dinkum’ it is but one thing is for sure: in 2009 the Blues need new blood and a big performance here is going to put players in the box seat.
Conversely, a poor performance will make it difficult for players to recover.
The spotlight starts its focus on the back and moves through every position. Fullbacks Luke Patten (Country) and Wade McKinnon (City) are battling to be considered as the back-up to Kurt Gidley should injury befall the Blues captain-in-waiting.
Wingers James McManus, Joel Monaghan (Country) and Jarryd Hayne and David Williams (City) are all in with a shot at gaining a Blues jersey and must show not just elusive attack but steely defence. One NSW winger will be suiting up against Israel Folau, so they’ll need to show plenty of strength.
The centre battle has been robbed of two of the main contenders, with Matt Cooper and Chris Lawrence ruled out; however their misfortune is to the benefit of Beau Scott, Jamie Lyon (Country), Ben Pomeroy and Michael Jennings (City). Jennings in particular is right in the frame and a dominant performance here would almost certainly stamp his Origin passport.
Perhaps the most interesting and crucial battle comes in the halves, where Country’s Terry Campese and Jarrod Mullen take on City’s John Sutton and Peter Wallace.
Campese has the edge over Sutton, while Wallace has the edge over Mullen – but big performances by either individual could be enough to change the selectors’ feelings. Jamie Soward is an outside chance of impressing from the Country bench.
If the battle of the halves isn’t the one to watch, the battle between the two dummy-halves is.
Country’s Michael Ennis and City’s Robbie Farah are already in a knock-down, drag-them-out battle for the vacant Blues’ no.9 jersey. Ennis outpointed Farah slightly in last weekend’s Bulldogs-Tigers match but the Tigers’ rake can atone here.
Props Josh Perry, Michael Weyman, Justin Poore, Brett White (Country), Keith Galloway, Luke Stuart and Mark O’Meley (City) will battle it out with Kangaroos Luke Bailey and Brent Kite for a place in Craig Bellamy’s NSW squad.
Finally, back-rowers Ben Creagh, Andrew Ryan, Alan Tongue, Anthony Tupou (Country), Trent Waterhouse, Mark Minichiello, Luke O’Donnell, Shane Shackleton and Ryan Hoffman (City) will via for a possible spot with Kangaroos Anthony Laffranchi, Paul Gallen, Glenn Stewart and Anthony Watmough.
Watch out Country: Centre Michael Jennings is on an Origin quest and would love nothing better than to prove his quality on this stage.
He has proven a great player for Tonga in the World Cup and a star for Penrith in the NRL; now he is out to prove himself on the rep scene. So far in 2009 Jennings is making 88 metres a match, something he can improve on, but his eight line breaks (the most in the NRL) have been scintillating and he has three try assists and five tries. If there is a faster player in the NRL they’d be quick enough to trial for the Olympics’ 100-metre sprint.
Watch out City: Terry Campese can smell an Origin jersey and will try to dictate play to ensure it’s his.
So far in 2009 Campese has notched 11 try assists and eight line-break assists plus two line breaks and a try of his own. He brings a massive kicking game to the table and has the size and strength to run through defensive lines when the chance arises.
Campese is also a confident player who won’t be afraid to try a chip kick or risky play if he feels it could bring points. The city defenders need to be up in his face and cut down his thinking time or he could run riot.
Where it will be won: Teamwork. While individuals will be out to impress, mateship will win this game. The side that can put aside personal glories, and focus on doing their job for the team, will come out on top. This means gaining the hard yards and running the plays with precision rather than hogging any opportunities.
Look for the hookers to control the direction of the two sides and the forwards and halves to feed off them. The kicking games will also be vital, and the likely catalyst to field position. Mullen has been an accurate kicker in the past, much more than Wallace, and it could be his edge if he can provide his kick-chasers time to get down-field.
Campese also gives Country a huge boot.
The History (Origin Format): Played 19; Country 7, City 11, Drawn 1. Last season this game ended in a 22-all draw with the title going to City thanks to their win in 2007.
Conclusion: The Country team looks a little stronger on paper – but that is no guarantee of a victory. With each player looking to impress it really is anyone’s game.
Why not just go with your heart in this one… if you come from the bush, stick with your roots but if you’re a city slicker, foam up a latte, sit back and watch the townies give it their all.
Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Gavin Badger; Sideline Officials – Adam Devcich & Jeff Younis; Video Ref – Steve Clark.
Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 9.30pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 1am.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.