Rugby League

Country 22 City 24

Classy Carney closes on Origin spot with sizzling show

WHATEVER Ricky Stuart said to Todd Carney over coffee yesterday morning must have hit the mark.


The pair met in Mudgee before the City-Country clash and only a few hours later Carney took a giant step towards his State of Origin debut.

Together with Mitchell Pearce, who Brad Fittler believes did enough to hold on to his NSW halfback position, they solved Stuart's Origin halves dilemma, overshadowing their rivals to gain a stranglehold on the NSW No.6 and No.7 jerseys.

As Country coach Laurie Daley put it after the match, it was a game of two halves. The first 40 belonged to City and Pearce, the second was the Carney show.

The former Roosters teammates are all but guaranteed to be reunited for game one, and Pearce was happy to hit back at the critics who questioned his place in the team.


''I was under a bit of pressure coming into the game, being criticised a bit,'' he said. ''I honestly don't think I've been playing too bad. I probably struggled with a bit of consistency, but it was nice to get a good game in today.

''I think it did motivate me, I certainly don't mind that stuff, I'd rather it be positive, but it's part and parcel of rugby league. I've been inconsistent and you've got to strive and be consistent every week, that's what people expect of you and that's what you have to deliver, which I think I did today.''

Carney took a while to get into the game, but when he did, stepping past Jamie Buhrer to set Tariq Sims up for the first of his two tries, he did so in style.

He paid the price for a slow start from his forwards, who were totally outplayed in the opening half. But when Country finally got on the front foot, as they clawed their way back from 24-0 down, Carney surfaced.

''It's hard when you don't have the ball to get in the game as a half,'' Carney said.

While the Cronulla playmaker was reluctant to talk up his chances for selection ahead of game one, he's hoping he proved his worth yesterday. ''Obviously that's what the game's about,'' Carney said.

''We've still got a few more weeks but hopefully I've done enough. That's not for me to decide, it's for Ricky and the selectors. Hopefully I put my best foot forward.''

Carney didn't get the chance to attack the City line in the first half, but when Country got themselves into quality field possession in the second, he began to do what he does best.

Daley has no queries about his ability to handle the step up to Origin, backing him to do the job required.

''When he runs the football, he's dangerous,'' Daley said.

''When he floats across field and he's got people pushing with him, he's creative and very skilful, and you'd hate to be defending that. I think he's a guy that can handle the step up if he's given an opportunity with NSW.''

Country skipper Greg Bird, who is a certainty to be included in the team to take on Queensland next month, has been impressed with Carney this year.

He believes the Origin environment and the staff at the Blues' disposal will help bring the best out of him. ''Toddy Carney has been doing it all year,'' Bird said.

''He's just got to keep doing it. It's pretty much a battle with him and himself, really. If he goes out and plays the way he's been playing and doesn't change anything, I'm sure under Sticky [Stuart], and if Joey comes into camp, with their guidance I'm sure he's going to be great for NSW. I just hope I'm there with him.''

NSW CITY 24 (S Turner 2 L Coote C Lawrence tries S Turner 4 goals) bt NSW COUNTRY 22 (B Ferguson 2 T Sims 2 tries T Carney 3 goals) at Glen Willow Regional Sports Stadium. Referee: Gerard Sutton, Brett Suttor. Crowd: 8,621.