WINNING STARTS MONDAY
True Blue? ... James Tamou Photo: Getty Images
Just how far is NSW prepared to go to prevent a record seventh consecutive State of Origin series defeat?
Far enough to jeopardise the credibility of Test football and the annual City-Country game it would seem.
Only six months ago, James Tamou was a member of the Kiwis train-on squad for the Four Nations tournament and Danny Buderus was in England playing Super League for Leeds.
Fourth choice ... Ryan Hinchcliffe has been called in to replace Danny Buderus after Michael Ennis and Mitchell Rein were also ruled out. Photo: Kate Geraghty
Now it would appear that both have been guaranteed places in the Blues side for Origin I at Etihad Stadium on May 23.
To do so, New Zealand born and bred Tamou, who was recently contacted by NSW captain Paul Gallen as well as coach Ricky Stuart, has had to switch allegiances from the country whose passport he carries.
After being named in the Australian team for Friday's Test at Eden Park the North Queensland prop can't go back on his decision.
Kangaroos squad to play New Zealand
1. Billy Slater (Melbourne Storm). Photo: Getty Images
In contrast, Buderus doesn't have to do anything - including play for Country in Sunday's match against City at Mudgee.
With NSW coach Ricky Stuart heavily involved in the selection of the City and Country teams, the clash is billed as a genuine trial for Blues selection.
That is unless you are Wests Tigers hooker Robbie Farah and Canterbury's Michael Ennis, who have developed a rivalry over the past three years for the NSW No.9 jersey to match that of Ben Elias and Mario Fenech.
Ennis is the incumbent Blues hooker and has played seven of the past nine Origins, with Farah playing the other two, but when the Bulldogs skipper was approached by Country selectors after Buderus failed to show at today's medical he was ruled out with a groin injury.
Ennis played in Melbourne on Saturday night and is expected to line up against Manly in Canterbury's next game on April 27.
Farah was named in the City team but despite speaking with Stuart last week he would appear to be wasting his time as Buderus is believed to already have the job, with Storm utility Ryan Hinchcliffe the next choice.
The Wests Tigers hooker may be ruled out of the City team after playing just 30 minutes of Sunday's 30-0 win over Penrith due to a concussion.
As for Buderus, Country officials said he had withdrawn due to injury but were initially unable to provide any further details. Later they said he was suffering from an Achilles heel problem.
Buderus, who had been named the Country captain, did not attend the team medical at Moore Park and it was reported that the 34-year-old was holidaying in Adelaide with his family.
Remarkably, there are suggestions that Buderus's chances of being recalled to the NSW team for the first time since 2008 have not be affected but if he is selected it is surely another nail in the coffin for the City-Country concept as officials can no longer claim it is a genuine Origin selection trial.
There is no doubting that Buderus has been a great player and great servant to NSW, Australia and Newcastle throughout his 15-year career. But has he really done enough in just seven games back with the Knights to warrant being an automatic Blues selection?
Similar questions can be asked about Tamou's credentials - not just for Australia but NSW.
Tamou, who was born in New Plymouth and played for Levin Knights before moving to Sydney with his family as a teenager, has been one of the NRL's form props so far this season.
But surely there are enough other good frontrowers to choose from without risking the credibility of the international game by enticing a 23-year-old who represented New Zealand Maori 18 months ago and only last year declared his allegiances to the Kiwis to switch countries.
The decision appears to have already prompted New Zealand selectors to choose Tamou's 18-year-old Cowboys club mate Jason Taumolo in an extended Test squad as a way of ensuring he plays for the Kiwis after he was approached by Queensland coach Mal Meninga to also make himself available for Australia.
Winning Starts Monday will appear each Monday at lunchtime on smh.com.au.