Exciting young Cronulla five-eighth Jack Bird will start at halfback for NSW Country after Newcastle’s Jarrod Mullen was forced to withdraw due to a head injury.
St George Illawarra hooker Mitch Rein will start on the bench with Bird promoted to the starting line-up for Sunday’s clash in Wagga Wagga.
Mullen’s exit has opened the door for Bird to get his first taste of senior representative action following a stellar start to his four-game NRL career and will partner skipper James Maloney in the halves.
Country coach Trent Barrett said he’s looking forward to working with Bird and believes his versatility makes him one of the most exciting talents in the NRL.
“He’s a very good player and what I like about him is that he can play centre, back-row and in the halves,” Barrett told AAP.
“He’s got a good size about him as well, which is really important at representative level.
“I am really looking forward to getting to know him. He’s had a great start to his NRL career and this is another opportunity to further his experience.”
Former NSW and Australia five-eighth Barrett also believes in-form Canberra fullback Jack Wighton is certain to play State of Origin in the near future.
Wighton, who will line-up in the centres against City, was called in to the Country side by Barrett two years ago in Coffs Harbour despite having only a handful of NRL games under his belt, and the coach said he’s now beginning to fulfil that potential.
“Laurie (Daley) sees him long-term as a centre as our fullback stocks in (Josh) Dugan and Matt Moylan are strong,” Barrett said.
“With Jack’s size he is going to be suited centre, but he is so good he could play, five-eighth, back-row or fullback.
“He is going to be a big player for NSW down the line. I’ve been watching him for a while and I know when I picked him two years ago it raised a few eyebrows, but he’s developing in to the player I knew he could be.”
Rein, who scored a try in the Dragons’ win over the Sydney Roosters on Saturday, has been named on the bench.