Rivalry round comes early for a host of NRL stars this weekend as some of the fiercest local derbies take centre stage in Round 10 of the Intrust Super Cup.
Members of the Cowboys, Broncos and Titans squads will face off against each other in three key fixtures with positions on the line in their respective NRL teams when the competition resumes with Round 9 next week.
Up north Anthony Mitchell and Cameron King will duke it out for a spot on the Cowboys bench against the Broncos when the Mackay Cutters travel to Cairns to face the Northern Pride while down on the Gold Coast Matthew Beddow (Burleigh), Sam Irwin and Beau Henry (both Tweed Heads) get to audition for a place in the Titans' injury-decimated halves. In Brisbane, Jordan Kahu (Wynnum Manly), Stewart Mills and Aaron Whitchurch (Redcliffe) get their chance to impress Broncos coach Anthony Griffin when the Seagulls host the Dolphins.
Mitchell was one of the Cowboys' best in the pre-season Auckland Nines tournament and has been producing some eye-catching displays for the Cutters in the ISC so far this season, with his early season form earning him a place on the bench for the North Queensland's recent 42-14 flogging of the Parramatta Eels.
He'll likely have the inside running to snare a place on the pine for the Broncos match due to the fact that King has being named to come off the bench for the Pride.
Cutters coach Kim Williams is glad to have Mitchell back on deck this week due to the NRL representative bye weekend and his return sees him rushed straight back into the starting side.
"Anthony is always a key inclusion for us. We know what he can do on the field but it is his attitude in the sheds and the leadership that he shows that benefits the team considerably," Williams said.
"I hope that when the Cowboys play again next week he is still in the frame for NRL selection. He deserves the opportunity."
Mitchell's direct opponent, King, is yet to debut for the Cowboys, although he played 17 NRL games for St George-Illawarra before moving to Townsville at the beginning of this season. He'll be guarded closely by the Cutters, with Williams keeping his team on high alert in order to stem his influence off the bench.
"King was great for the Pride in their early games before he missed a bit of time with injury. He is certainly a player we will have to watch," he said.
King's name is one of many fringe Cowboys given the chance to impress coach Paul Green leading into the Broncos match, with 11 contracted Cowboys named across both sides.
Javid Bowen, Kyle Feldt, Robert Lui, Ricky Thorby, Ethan Lowe, Joel Riethmuller and King have all been named for the Pride, while Zac Santo, Sam Hoare, John Asiata and Mitchell will line up for the Cutters.
The Barlow Park blockbuster will kick off Round 10 of the ISC, however there are plenty of other tantalising match-ups across the XXXX Rivalry Round weekend, especially with Gold Coast Titans players trading blows at Pizzey Park on Sunday afternoon as the Burleigh Bears take on local rivals Tweed Heads Seagulls.
Beddow, Steve Michaels and Siuatonga Likiliki have been named in the Bears' squad and Irwin, Henry, Kalifa Faifai Loa, Matt Srama and Cody Nelson will join the Seagulls' nest.
Other household names with NRL experience turning out for ISC teams over the weekend include Broncos David Stagg and Jake Granville, who have been named for Wynnum Manly in their battle against Peninsula rivals, the Redcliffe Dolphins, who also have some Broncos' talent on their books with David Hala, Stewart Mills and promising five-eighth Zach Strasser, along with Brisbane under-20s graduates Aaron Whitchurch, Paul Byrnes and Cameron Cullen.