2 days ago
Mitchell Pearce is on the cusp of NSW State of Origin selection after winning the contentious battle for the City No.7 jersey for the annual grudge match with Country.
The teenager was named alongside Sydney Roosters teammate Braith Anasta and will go head-to-head with maligned Parramatta half Brett Finch at WIN Stadium next Friday.
Pearce, 19, and Brisbane youngster Peter Wallace (interchange) were handed City debuts while Manly skipper Matt Orford was snubbed for the fourth year running and his chances of a NSW debut appear distant.
Finch will be partnered in the halves by Todd Carney, however Country coach and Blues selector Laurie Daley essentially ruled the Canberra star out of the NSW No.7 running by declaring the Raiders star more a five-eighth than half.
"When I look at Todd Carney I see a good ball runner and good support player and I think they're key areas or indicators for a five-eighth," said Daley.
"Being his first rep game I didn't want to throw all the added pressure on Todd. I think Brett Finch can handle that a lot better ... and at this stage of his career is more suited to directing the team around the park."
Newcastle's Kurt Gidley remains the joker in the halfback pack, but he was ineligible for a Country berth after being named on the Australian bench for the Centenary Test match.
City coach Tim Sheens would not explain why selectors continue to snub Orford, but said youth and the NRL combination with Anasta had served in Pearce's favour.
"There's an element of club football played between the two Roosters boys and an element of youth," said Sheens.
The Roosters combination could also serve Pearce well at the Blues selection table as Anasta's brilliant club form is almost certain to lead him back into a NSW jumper.
But aside from halfback there appears to be few Blues positions up for grabs at the Wollongong clash with eight NSW players included in the Test side and Country skipper Danny Buderus a certainty to retain his hooker position and captaincy.
Ryan Hoffman, Paul Gallen and Greg Bird form the Test back row, while Brent Kite (prop), Willie Mason and Anthony Tupou (both interchange) are all likely to stroll into the NSW side.
Centre Mark Gasnier is the only NSW backline player in the Test backline, but is likely to be joined by Country fullback Brett Stewart (Manly) and City winger Jarryd Hayne (Parramatta) after both were dumped from the Test side.
This leaves just one wing, one centre and two bench positions for forwards to be decided as well as halfback.
Gold Coast second rower Anthony Laffranchi narrowly missed Test selection and was surprisingly named at prop for Country as the entire back row is made up of former Test stars Nathan Hindmarsh, Andrew Ryan and Craig Fitzgibbon.
But the move may enhance Laffranchi's NSW chances as there are plenty of Blues backrowers in the Test side and now he can show his versatility at rep level.
"For the mix and balance of our footy team I think he is best suited up front," said Daley.
"His form has been irresistible."
City named Feleti Mateo (Eels), John Sutton (Rabbitohs), Brett Delaney (Titans), Corey Hughes (Bulldogs) and Ray Cashmere (Cowboys) for their debuts while Country picked Carney, Glenn Stewart (Sea Eagles), Chris Heighington (Tigers) and Brett Kearney (Sharks) for the first time.