Although I’ve long been an advocate for pulling the plug on the wheezing, tottering old mule that is the annual City-Country game, there were some edifying moments to come out of Sunday’s match.
These were in relation to the makeup of the 2012 New South Wales squad.
The NRL is the best rugby league competition in the world, therefore we certainly don’t need a contrived, lower-level representative fixture to ‘assist’ in the selection of the Blues team (there are more direct ways to grow the game in the bush).
That said, certain players made me review my recent suggestions for the 17 to wear sky blue this year (Ben Barba no longer among them, for my regular readers), while other men ruled themselves out.
One of the standouts for me was BJ Leilua, not having been on my radar at any stage to this point. He reminds me of Justin Hodges – big and skillful, a handful for the opposition.
Reliability is a question mark but right now Josh Morris is the only man to have sewn up a centre position; he was strong again on Sunday. It’s Michael Jennings v Leilua at this stage for the other spot. Chris Lawrence still looks two yards slower in 2012.
I had Brett Morris on the wing with Uate, but Blake Ferguson is making me think twice. Morris is a superb finisher but Ferguson has him beat for that touch of brilliance which can be the difference in a tight game. I’ve said before that New South Wales needs to prioritise attack over reliability, so Ferguson might get a look.
Jarryd Hayne confirmed what I’ve been saying for some time now: the man is slow and hurt, providing none of his former spark. He’s been living on reputation, with the media and fans eager to affirm a talent that is currently absent.
Todd Carney buried him for five-eighth, and he doesn’t have the speed to play fullback right now.
One of the big stories from this game for me was Mitchell Pearce. Finally this man showed me why others have been lauding him for so long. He completely outplayed my pick for NSW, Jarrod Mullen, with superior kicking, crisp passing and even an occasional dart at the line.
Overall, he displayed presence at halfback, an intangible quality which seems necessary at Origin level. He doesn’t appear to have a challenger for the No.7 jersey at this stage.
Tariq Sims is a monster and now is pressing intensely for a spot. If he cracks it, it should be as a starter; New South Wales needs to assert itself early against the reigning champs.
Tim Mannah, a man not in my 17 before Sunday, is one of the few props going around who returns kickoffs at full intensity, something strangely missing from the game this year. He was bruising in Mudgee and might change my mind, completely outplaying my pick Michael Weyman, who looked flat.
Having said all that, it’s hard to assess players’ performance when they’re simultaneously trying to impress selectors, avoid injury, and play for a team to which they feel no allegiance, whatever they might say.
The biggest development was what appeared to be the beginning of Bill Harrigan’s crackdown on the 10 metres and the wrestle, putting Leilua on report for an ugly arm twist. May the referees continue to blow the whistle and be the new sheriffs in town when hostilities resume in the NRL this week.