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Stuart takes keen interest in Origin trial

Steve Jancetic 29/04/2011 04:42:57 PM Comments (0)

NSW coach Ricky Stuart is taking a hands-on approach with City-Country selections to ensure all his Origin queries are answered ahead of next month's series opener.

Stuart admitted he had been in regular contact with City Origin coach Brad Fittler and Country Origin counterpart Laurie Daley in recent weeks, with teams for the annual clash to be named on Sunday night.

While the City-Country clash - to be staged in Albury next Friday - has often been criticised for its lack of relevance, Stuart said the fact there were so many Blues jumpers still up for grabs made it a genuine selection trial.

And it's a trial Stuart will take keen interest in - thanks to the fact he will play a role in the selection of both sides.

"The communication with myself, Laurie and Brad has been very productive and looking towards giving everyone in contention an opportunity to take that next step," Stuart said.

"It's another level up from NRL - it's always an interest to see how individuals handle it."

Stuart claimed only two players - likely skipper Paul Gallen and utility Kurt Gidley - were guaranteed selections for Origin I on May 25.

That will leave plenty to play for at Lavington Sports Ground next Friday, with five-eighth, hooker, the front row, one wing and one centre spot in particular being wide open.

Gallen and Gidley will both miss the City-Country match due to likely Test call-ups for the Australia-New Zealand clash on the same night, with fellow New South Welshmen Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Jarryd Hayne, Brett Morris, Greg Bird and Ben Creagh also in contention for what will be a Queensland-dominated Kangaroos line-up.

That group along with Mark Gasnier and Michael Weyman would appear to be pencilled into the NSW 17 for the Origin opener, Stuart admitting there was still plenty of time for the best laid plans to come unstuck.

"I learnt a long time ago with representative teams that you can't pick them too far out," Stuart said.

"You never get to take that team onto the field because of injury and suspension."

Of most interest is who will wear the No.6 jumper, with St George Illawarra pivot Jamie Soward, who is set to be teamed with Jarrod Mullen in the halves for Country, firming for a call-up.

Given the dearth of five-eighth options for City - who are considering throwing Canterbury halfback Trent Hodkinson into the role alongside likely NSW No.7 Mitchell Pearce - Soward's main competition won't be in the opposition next Friday night but rather in the form of Gidley, Bird and Mullen.

What Stuart, who was an interested onlooker at Dragons training on Thursday, will be interested in, however, is how Soward handles the quicker pace of representative football.

The Maroons could have as many as ten of the starting members in the Australian side after they dominated selection during last year's Four Nations tournament.

Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan said he would be stunned if Sharks skipper Gallen wasn't named in the Test side.

"I'd like to have my house on it - he'll be there," Flanagan said.

"They'd be crazy if they didn't (pick him) and I'm pretty sure (Australian coach) Tim Sheens thinks the same as well."

Parramatta veteran Nathan Hindmarsh - who won a surprise NSW recall last year - said he would never give up on adding to his representative collection.

"I'm always available for my Country side, definitely," Hindmarsh said.

"I've played for Country once and I really enjoyed the week.

"For me Country Origin's up there with NSW State of Origin."

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