Blues hopeful can't find Bathurst
Titans forward Ryan James has failed the first test in earning a spot in Laurie Daley's New South Wales Origin team for Game One on May 27; he doesn't know where Bathurst is.
Home to the most iconic venue in Australian motorsport, Mount Panorama, Bathurst is the oldest inland settlement in Australia, was the site of the first gold rush in the 1860s and its university has produced graduates of the calibre of Andrew Denton and your humble correspondent.
But when quizzed on the Central West town that will host the clash between the Titans and the Panthers on Saturday afternoon at Carrington Park, James – who thankfully won't be driving the team bus from Sydney on Friday morning – drew a blank.
"I don't even know where Bathurst is so I'll just show up on the day and prepare as normal," James said.
"'Morts' [Daniel Mortimer] was saying that it's near his family's winery out there near Orange and he wants to get the boys out there and have a feed. Apparently it's a pretty big property so I'd like to get out there and have a look."
Despite any geographical deficiencies James said that he has fond memories of the team's last visit to the Central West in 2013 where they put a club-record score on the Eels at Mudgee and the atmosphere that invariably comes with playing in regional centres.
"Two years ago we played a couple of country rounds back-to-back where we went to Mudgee, Cairns, Newcastle and then Darwin and that was some of the best crowds we had all year. The atmosphere at those grounds was great," said James, who scored a try, made six tackle busts and ran for 93 metres against the Tigers on Saturday night in his first NRL game since Round 9 last year.
"The country towns really get behind it and I'm hoping we get a good crowd out there at Bathurst."
With doubts remaining over the availability of stars such as Greg Bird, Dave Taylor and Beau Falloon who have all pleaded not guilty to drugs charges, Gold Coast prop Luke Douglas welcomed an early-season trip to Bathurst as a way to escape some of the media spotlight that has been so intently trained on the squad in recent months.
"I love the trips away. We're a pretty close bunch and you get to hang with them the whole time and we're away from the Coast so it might take a bit of the heat off with all the stuff going on," Douglas said.
"I love going out to the country towns, there'll be some promotional stuff and visits to schools so I'm looking forward to that."
The Panthers' meeting with the Titans on Saturday is the second in a five-year deal to play at least one game a year in the Central West town and comes on the back of an impressive first-up win over the Bulldogs on Sunday.
The Penrith forwards stood up to one of the most imposing packs in the competition in their 24-18 win but it was the man in the middle of their front row who impressed James the most.
"James Segeyaro has got good go forward and he was very electric out of hooker," said James, whose only rest in his side's 19-18 loss to the Tigers was a 10-minute stint in the sin bin.
"Obviously being the Dally M Hooker of the Year he was going to be great out of hooker and he was and he showed that in the first game.
"Our ruck defence is going to have to be tight but everyone's ruck defence has to be tight. I thought our ruck defence was pretty good on the weekend so we're just going to have to watch out for 'Chicko' [Segeyaro]."