A four-try haul to surprise star Aaron Gray set up City’s 44-30 upset win over Country in Tamworth on Sunday.
The South Sydney winger went into the game not rating a mention among the contenders for a NSW State of Origin jumper but didn’t do his chances any harm with a standout performance in front of 8317 fans at Scully Park.
Brad Fittler’s City side went into the game friendless in the betting but were the most resourceful, with Penrith trio Bryce Cartwright, Josh Mansour and Tyrone Peachey amongst the best.
With halves James Maloney and Jack Bird in control, Country looked dominant early and the Cronulla duo put it through the hands for Boyd Cordner to score and take a 6-0 lead.
However City scored the next 34 points with the game taking a sharp turn when Ryan Matterson intercepted a Bird pass on his own tryline and Gray scored the next play.
Gray was then the beneficiary of a magical flick pass from back-rower Cartwright, who impressed all day with his ball-playing and kicking game and looks set for a Blues call-up.
After City went into the sheds up 18-6, Cartwright gave his side a comfortable buffer when he bombed high, forced a mistake and Peats crossed in the corner.
Tries to Euan Aitken and Jack de Belin gave Country the faintest sniff before Gray sailed high to score his fourth and Sydney Roosters rookie Matterson – who was outstanding despite having just two NRL games under his belt – dived on a kick to score.
For Country, Cordner did enough to demand a spot in the NSW side with coach Laurie Daley watching on, despite only returning from a pectoral injury just a fortnight ago.
Maloney scored a late double to lend some respectability to the scoreline and was strong as he pushed for a Blues halves spot.