James Maloney and Josh Reynolds have been challenged to stake their claims for a NSW Origin spot in Sunday’s City-Country match with coach Laurie Daley still undecided on his Blues’ halves pairing.
A handful of spots in the NSW squad for game one of their State of Origin defence are on the line in the match at Wagga Wagga, most notably the No.6 position.
“I think it’s really important,” Country coach Trent Barrett said on what bearing the City-Country match will have on James Maloney’s selection chances.
“I know Laurie hasn’t decided who he’s going to throw in there, so not only this game but the next two or three weeks for Jimmy are important.
“I think it is wide open and I think he really wants to see four of them in red-hot form and then he can make his mind up. But it’s up to the individuals.”
Sydney Roosters pairing Mitchell Pearce and Maloney were usurped by Canterbury pair Trent Hodkinson and Reynolds during last year’s series.
While Hodkinson and Reynolds were expected to be shown loyalty after helping to win back the Origin shield from Queensland, their performances during the opening NRL rounds have been indifferent, leading league great Andrew Johns to declare he was “frightened” by their recent form.
On the other hand, Maloney and Pearce have not grabbed the bull by the horns.
The Roosters No.7 was not selected for City-Country because Daley believes he has seen enough of Pearce and he does not have anything to prove.
Daley is also not guaranteed to stick with club combinations, as he has done in the first two years of his NSW tenure, and he could field Hodkinson and Pearce at ANZ Stadium on May 27.
While that would mean playing one out of position, they are capable of playing on opposite sides of the field.
City coach Brad Fittler said Reynolds, who will wear the No.6 jersey for his side, was sometimes guilty of fading out of games and wanted to see him close out the match against Country.
“I just want him to play. I think sometimes he feels like he has a lot on his plate,” Fittler said.
“He started last week really well and just fell out of the game. I just want him to get out and play and be aggressive and all the things we want to see at different levels. We want him to be a good communicator and defender and if he’s going to play Origin again he’s got to nail them.”
STATS THAT MATTER
* Of the 25 City-Country clashes since 1987, 13 have been won by City, 10 by Country with two draws.
* 11 of the last 13 matches between the two sides have been won by 10 points or less.
* Country has two players making their debuts in the match – Tyson Frizell and Jack Bird. While City will blood James Roberts, Waqa Blake, Blake Austin, Tyrone Peachey, Joseph Paulo, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Kane Evans and Jason Clark.
* Last season eight of the 34 players who participated in City-Country match went on to play State of Origin for NSW: Beau Scott, Ryan Hoffman, Josh Reynolds, Aaron Woods, Daniel Tupou, James McManus, Will Hopoate and Tony Williams.