Country Origin v City Origin
McDonalds Park, Wagga Wagga
The annual Country v City clash has once again come under scrutiny as to whether it is a true State of Origin trial for NSW, there are plenty of reasons why you should be excited for Sunday's match at Wagga Wagga's McDonalds Park.
While eight New South Welshmen will represent Australia on Friday night – Alex Johnston, Josh Dugan, Aaron Woods, Greg Bird, Luke Lewis, Trent Merrin, James Tamou and Michael Jennings – and have practically guaranteed their spot in Laurie Daley's team for Origin I on May 27, there are others who may force their way into Origin calculations from this game, especially with Paul Gallen and the Morris brothers' injury concerns.
With Rabbitohs duo Dylan Walker and Luke Keary ruled out, Brad Fittler's City team will have eight players make their debut. The importance of the opportunity afforded to these young blokes – while they may not play Origin in 2015 – lies in the chance to prepare them for future showdowns with Queensland further down the track.
In fact Matt Moylan, Daniel Tupou, Josh Reynolds, Andrew Fifita and David Klemmer are the only five men to have played for City last year who have been named to back up in 2015, while Sharks vice-captain Wade Graham will captain the team.
Considering Tupou and Reynolds went on to play for the NSW after playing this clash and Klemmer, Tupou and Moylan played part in Tim Sheens's Kangaroos Four Nations squad, the selection trial still has value.
While Trent Barrett's Country team have a lot more stability with eight men returning from 2014's team – and with only three debutants (Jarrod Croker, Jack Bird and Tyson Frizell) for skipper James Maloney to take care of – the same definitely applies especially when you consider Josh Jackson finished 2014 with an Australian jumper.
Watch out Country: There are two duos Brad Fittler would be mad not to utilise for this clash – the two James's on the right and the two big boppers in the middle. In 2015, James Roberts and James Tedesco have scored 17 tries and are averaging over 250 metres per game between them. Considering they are linking up in the three-quarters, the threat they pose is scarily exciting. The same can be said for big boys Klemmer and Fifita. With Fifita looking to revitalise his representative career and Klemmer looking to redeem himself after finishing a three week suspension for abusing referee Gerard Sutton on Good Friday, the Country forward pack will certainly need to lift to contain them.
Watch out City: Trent Barrett will unleash a three-pronged Jack attack on Sunday when Jack Wighton, Jack Bird and Josh Jackson combine for the first time ever. Wighton starred in the centres for Country in 2014 after starting the season at five-eighth for the Raiders and while he is settled at fullback for the Green Machine currently, he will have No. 4 on his back. Bulldogs back-rower Jackson should consider himself unlucky he's playing for Country considering he was on the Kangaroos' bench for the Four Nations final last year. With a State of Origin debut likely at some point during the series, Jackson will be looking for a huge performance. Lining up alongside both men will be Sharks five-eighth Jack Bird who will make his representative debut at halfback. It's no secret Cronulla's fortunes turned once Bird made his NRL debut – a whole five weeks ago – so expect a similar influence from Jarrod Mullen's replacement.
Key Match-Up: James Maloney v Josh Reynolds – The importance of six: No statistic can quantify who has the edge currently as the two five-eighths look towards a shootout for New South Wales's No.6 jumper this weekend. Quite frankly neither man is playing his best football currently, with the Bulldogs and Roosters sitting at 11th and 12th on the NRL ladder. Intriguingly, their club halves partners Mitch Pearce and Trent Hodkinson missed out on selection, fuelling speculation that whoever comes out on top between the two in Wagga could be looking at flights to Coffs Harbour for NSW's camp before Origin I.
The History: Played 25; Country 10, City 13, Drawn 2. While the two finished last year's clash in a thrilling 26-all draw, with City Origin scoring three tries in the final five minutes to level it up, Country Origin have certainly been better in recent years having won three of the past five clashes. In a positive for the City slickers though, the last time this clash went down in Wagga Wagga back in 2002 they prevailed 26-16.
Match Officials: Referee: Adam Devcich. Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall. Sideline Officials: Russell Turner and Rickey MacFarlane. Video Referees: Ashley Klein and Ben Galea.
Televised: Channel Nine (Live) – 2:00pm
What are the Odds: Country $2.00 v City $1.80. Punters have jumped all over the Country side following the withdrawals from the City side. There's triple the money on Country in head to head betting according to Sportsbet, and even a bit of money about for them to win 13+.
The Way We See It: Fittler has utilised a youth policy of sorts with Joseph Paulo (27), Reynolds (26), Fifita and Jason Clark (both 25) leading the way in an otherwise very young team. This can go either way, City's excitement and energy may prevail or it can be their undoing. Considering Country's experience, we'll pick them by eight points.