Regional Sports Stadium, Port Macquarie
While the City v Country game is considered by some as nothing more than a chance for NSW players to bash each other up before State of Origin, it would be a mistake to underestimate the value of this “place-of-origin” encounter.
Friday night’s clash is one that will mean different things to different players. For some, the game represents the beginning of a representative career, while for others, it is about proving they’ve still got the same ability and form as they did last time they were picked. What all have in common, however, is the chance to impress NSW Origin selectors and to show they can perform at a higher level than club footy.
One of the most interesting match-ups here will be in the halves. The Country halves of Brett Kimmorley and Greg Bird will face City’s representative debutants Trent Hodkinson and Kris Keating, who will incidentally reunite after playing their junior footy together at Cabramatta.
Bird and Kimmorley are experienced campaigners for NSW and both will be looking to dominate their City rivals to ensure another cap each for the Blues. Keating and Hodkinson’s inexperience, however, will be used to City’s advantage, as they will no doubt bring a fresh attitude and hunger that are perhaps not as strong in Bird and Kimmorley.
The real question for this game will be whether Country’s deep pool of talent will be positive or detrimental to the Country cause. While Country boasts a much more experienced squad, the players who did make the side will be under pressure to show why they deserved to be picked over the others that missed out (like Jamie Soward and Luke Patten). This game could produce anything.
Watch out Country: It is no secret that Robbie Farah is desperate to be the NSW hooker this year and he knows that the only way to get there is to prove that he can get the job done better than Michael Ennis.
In the Round 6 clash between the two prospective hookers, Farah played well but was outshone by a star performance by Ennis. Farah, however, has the edge over Ennis in the stats, having made three line-break assists and five try assists, as well as averaging 76.7 metres and 35.6 tackles per game.
Ennis has two line-break assists, two try assists and averages 21.9 metres and 23 tackles per game, but has shown that he can step up in the big games.
When you consider that the NSW selectors would want to keep the Ennis/Kimmorley partnership together, Farah will know he must pull out something really special to get the Blues’ no. 9 jersey, so expect a huge game from him.
Watch out City: The Country team’s Josh Dugan and Jamal Idris are the two best runners of the ball in the NRL; City will need to contain them if they are to keep Country in their own end of the field.
Dugan and Idris have made the most tackle-breaks this year, breaking an average 8.1 and 7.1 tackles per game respectively.
From fullback, Dugan is excellent at taking the ball up to the opposition and leads the NRL fullbacks with six line-breaks. From centre, Idris has five line-breaks, two line-break assists and one try assist to his name. Both players will be making their debut, so if they can channel their excitement and aggression in the right way, City may well be unable to handle the two 19-year-old stars.
Where it will be won: In the kicking. In a game when players may be focussing more on making Origin than playing for the team, the winning side will be the one that can get through to the end of their sets and put pressure on the other side with consistent kicking.
Robbie Farah is the best in the NRL at finding open space from his kicks (a whopping 75 per cent), which City will need if they are to limit the metres of Dugan and co. If Country’s key playmakers and club team-mates Ennis (60 per cent) and Kimmorley (59 per cent) can keep their heads and focus on getting their kicking games right, they will give their sides a good shot at winning – but don’t underestimate the influence that Farrar’s kicking will have.
The history: Played 20; City 12, Country 7, drawn 1. City will be looking to make it five in a row against Country. In the corresponding fixture in Orange last year, City had a comprehensive 40-12 victory – after trailing by six points at half-time.
Conclusion: In the scramble to impress the NSW Origin selectors, players will be desperate to stand out from the pack. While this may be good for Origin selection, the City v Country games are usually won by the side that has the patience to take the smart option over the miraculous play when needed.
This is not a normal game and is therefore not an easy one to pick. Country have the better side on paper, but history shows that this is one game where anything can happen on the night.
Expect the X-factor to be provided by the likes of Todd Carney and Timana Tahu for Country, while City will rely on the back three of Lachlan Coote, Anthony Minichiello and Michael Jennings to provide their flair.
If the City forward pack can get some good go-forward and Farah can get his kicking right, City would be well on the way to winning. However, with the experience in the key positions in the Country team, as well as the eight Kangaroos in their side, Country should be able to stay calm and do the little things right.
Country to win by 13+.
Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Matt Cecchin; Sideline officials – Russell Turner & Steve Carrall; Video ref – Sean Hampstead.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 9.45pm AEST.