Next week’s City-Country contest is one of the most pivotal Origin trials in recent memory, according to NSW coach Ricky Stuart.
With so many positions vacant for the May 25 State of Origin opener against Queensland at Suncorp Stadium, the game in Albury is set to be a straight shoot-out for sky blue jerseys.
Stuart says a majority of NSW positions will be decided in the representative fixture.
The forwards seem the hardest to pick, with a largely inexperienced group of players vying for the coveted sky blue jersey.
Aiden Tolman, Tim Mannah, Greg Bird, Ben Creagh, Trent Merrin, Chris Houston, Michael Weyman, Kade Snowden and Luke Douglas are just some of the names being thrown around the selection panel.
Mark Gasnier’s vintage form for the Dragons has him favoured to re-ignite his Origin battle with Greg Inglis, while the Morris brothers (Josh and Brett) look set to link together for the first time since 2008.
But Stuart says form isn’t everything. Sometimes, it’s not even enough.
“Form is important, I won’t be picking the team based on pure form, but gee it helps,” Stuart told NRL.com.
“In State of Origin, there is a special breed of person, those special breeds can be out of a little bit of form and I know they will regain it at Origin level. But because we have so much youth with a chance of playing Origin football, you’d like to see some form and consistency in their game.
“We have so many positions that are open at the moment, some through a lack of form, others have form that has just jumped out of the box, which is really healthy for NSW.
“It (City-Country) is not the be-all and end-all, a player might play Origin who doesn’t play in that match – they can still stake a claim for NSW – but the majority of players will come from that game.”
Sharks enforcer Paul Gallen and Knights skipper Kurt Gidley are virtually the only guaranteed selections for the Blues, with a host of players, both rookies and veterans of Origin, knocking on the door to be picked alongside them.
They won’t have a better chance to press their claim and impress the coach than a big performance at Lavington Park on May 6.
“City-Country is very important in regards to selection for NSW this year,” Stuart said.
“We have a number of positions that players will be playing directly against each other for a jersey.
“This game is a real trial.
“I’ve got communication with both sets of selectors and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a City-Country fixture as important in relation to NSW selection.”
Stuart will speak personally to both teams the day before the game, highlighting the importance of the jersey they are about to represent and the opportunity to push for a higher prize. The NSW jumper.
In doing this, Stuart is taking the first steps in creating an Origin mentality he hopes can end the Maroons dominance.
“Planning has been terrific,” he said.
“The timing and the preparation is vital towards Origin. I’ve had the ability and the time to mould around the football team, to create a new environment for the team. I hope they see it as a proud moment coming into camp and I hope they really enjoy camp.
“I remember for me, Origin was always about enjoying camp, enjoying the environment and trying to play your best game of football. It is all about the players and when the player gets into camp I want him to feel privileged and happy that he is there.”