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City-Country ends in a draw as NSW five-eighth contenders fail to find knockout blow

If this was a boxing bout, chances are the battle of the five-eighths would have been declared a draw and a rematch scheduled immediately. Jarrod Mullen and Josh Reynolds did their Origin chances little harm with solid performances in a dramatic 26-all draw at Dubbo on Sunday afternoon.

While NSW coach Laurie Daley may have been looking for the knockout blow, he got two chargers who tried to jab their way to victory as both milked their respective right-hand sides. The puzzle of who should play five-eighth for NSW should James Maloney fail to recover in time from a shoulder injury remains unsolved.

Reynolds scored a try but a poor defensive read would later cost his team six points. He was the busier of the two, but Mullen stamped his class in the first half with a 40-20 and a second-half kick that laid on a try for Jamal Idris.  Daley would have been searching for an “Origin” play and Reynolds gave him a glimpse of what he can do when he rushed out of the defensive line and put a heavy hit on Kevin Gordon to force an error. But he failed to gain further traction when City couldn’t produce any early second-half points after enjoying the bulk of possession.

"At stages I thought I was OK," Reynolds said. "I tried my best, that's all I can do. I would love to get in the [Origin side] somewhere." 

Strong performances from Idris, Beau Scott and Daniel Tupou could have them push for selection. Rookie fullbacks David Mead and Matt Moylan were also good.

The battle of the No.6s overshadowed a remarkable result, after City scored three tries in the final five minutes to crawl back from a 16-point deficit to draw the match. Adam Reynolds kicked a goal after the siren to ensure the match finished all square, after City scored back-to-back tries in the last two minutes through Daniel Tupou and Will Hopoate. 


City coach Brad Fittler praised his halves.

"I thought our halves kept us in the game with good running, good kick pressure," Fittler said. "We started the game poorly. Our little blokes kept us in the game. Adam and Josh came up with some big plays."

Country started the more physical of the two sides, as their forward pack outmuscled likely NSW props in Andrew Fifita and Aaron Woods, with captain Scott punishing in defence.Trailing 6-0 after 11 minutes thanks to a Mead try, City side bounced back when Josh Reynolds crossed six minutes later. 

City winger Tupou easily outjumped NSW incumbent winger James McManus to score City’s first try from a well-timed cross-field bomb from Adam Reynolds. 

A spilt bomb by Tupou hampered his first-half efforts, while teammate and fellow NSW wing hopeful Jorge Taufua missed a regulation tackle to allow opposite Kevin Gordon to level the scores.

When a simple decoy run fooled Josh Reynolds, it allowed Mead to score his second off a regulation sweep play to give Country a 16-10 lead at half-time in front of a crowd of 9627.

City dominated possession early on the second half but failed to capitalise. Country didn’t waste their first opportunity to extend their lead when Mullen delivered a cross-field kick for Idris to climb high and score in the 63rd minute.  Idris seemed to have ensured victory when he steamrolled opposite number Dylan Walker to give McManus some room, who, with some neat footwork, scored to extend Country’s lead to 16 before a remarkable finish. 

Country coach Trent Barrett said Mullen did "everything he could" to impress.

"I thought he was terffiic," Barrett said. "He played tough and was our leader on the field. I thought his defence was probably the biggest thing."