NSW Country coach Craig Fitzgibbon has embraced his team’s favouritism for the annual fixture against City, but says they still needs to prove their experience matters.
While City counterpart Brad Fittler was forced to name 11 debutants in his 18-man squad for Sunday’s clash in Tamworth, Fitzgibbon’s seven rookies have far more NRL experience than their opposition.
Country also boast two former State of Origin players in captain James Maloney and second-rower Boyd Cordner, compared to none for City.
“We’re aware that talk will start. I’m sure City will take the underdog status again and everyone will bang on about how much it means to the Country but doesn’t mean to City,” Fitzgibbon said on Monday.
Fitzgibbon warned his squad about a City line-up that will have nothing to lose.
“They’ve got 10 debutants there (in their 17) to put themselves in the highlights reel. We’ll have to be ready for that,” he said.
“If (ours) is a stronger line-up on paper, then we’re happy with that.
“But we’ve still got to play. We’ve got to play like a stronger line-up, just not be named well on paper.”
Cronulla pivot Maloney will lead the side for the second year in a row, and will look to further press his claims for a recall to the NSW State of Origin team.
Fitzgibbon believed the former Blues playmaker was one big performance away from a return.
“I’d like to think so,” Fitzgibbon said of Maloney, who’ll be partnered by Cronulla teammate Jack Bird in the halves.
“He’s playing exceptionally for the Sharks and knowing him from his time at the Roosters, I can only tell you how excited he was to play.
“I remember as soon as he found out that I got the job, he said, ‘Hey don’t forget me’. He played his way straight into the team anyway.
“If he can steer the team around like he did last year for the CRL, you’d like to think that he puts himself in a strong position there.”
NSW Country Origin squad: Jack Wighton, Kane Linnett, Euan Aitken, Jarrod Croker, Isaah Yeo, James Maloney, Jack Bird, Shannon Boyd, Mitch Rein, Jack De Belin, Tyson Frizell, Boyd Cordner, Dale Finucane, Jordan McLean, Paul Vaughan, Tariq Sims, Mitchell Aubusson. Coach: Craig Fitzgibbon.