NSW hopefuls are not the only ones playing for high stakes in Sunday’s City-Country clash with the Blues’ generation next also on show in Wagga Wagga.
While there is a feeling the match is a genuine State of Origin trial, especially between City five-eighth Josh Reynolds and his Country counterpart James Maloney, NSW officials are also using it to fast-track the representative careers of the state’s best young stars.
Cronulla sensation Jack Bird will start at halfback for Country after just five NRL games while breakout Penrith centre Waqa Blake has been given a berth in the City side after just four outings in first grade.
Panthers fullback Matt Moylan, who will line up for City at McDonalds Park, is in the running for the NSW No.1 spot and was part of the Australian squad during last year’s Four Nations.
He credits his selection in last year’s City-Country match as being a turning point in his career and Blues officials are hoping it will have a similar affect on the likes of Bird and Blake.
“We don’t want to cheapen the jumper and everyone here has something to play for, whether they they’re at the back end of their career or just starting,” Country coach Trent Barrett said.
“Jack Bird is a prime example. We need to find out what sort of people they are as well, whether they can fit into a rep team environment.”
Barrett said back-rowers Tyson Frizell and Josh Jackson had been standouts during camp and were genuine contenders to claims NSW jumpers.
As well as being a damaging second-rower, Barrett said Jackson’s utility value would increase his standing in NSW coach Laurie Daley’s reckoning.
“Jackson can play a number of positions – I think he’s a perfect utility to be honest,” he said.
“He can play hooker, back-row, lock, five-eighth if he had to. He can play anywhere. And he’s a real professional.”