By Tony Webeck (NRL.com)
Panthers back-rower Bryce Cartwright showed that the future of the New South Wales Blues is now with a starring role in City Origin's massive 44-30 win over Country Origin at Scully Park in Tamworth on Sunday.
In front of a capacity crowd of 8,317 Country got off on the right foot by scoring first points but were unable to convert pressure into a greater lead and when City wrested away momentum Cartwright's skill ensured they took full advantage, South Sydney winger Aaron Gray the major beneficiary with four tries.
When City winger David Nofoaluma was forced from the field with a neck injury after just five minutes Gray shuffled out from his position in the centres to the wing and had a senior representative debut to remember, becoming the first player since Graham Eadie in 1980 to score four tries in a City-Country fixture.
While Gray was flawless in his finishing it was Cartwright who pulled the Country defence apart with a rare array of skills for a back-rower of his size.
He had a hand in three of City's tries – two of which came from kicks – and his offloads on the right edge created all sorts of problems for the Country defence.
If Blues coach Laurie Daley is looking for a new way to break down a Queensland defence that has won nine of the past 10 Origin series then it was there for him to see in plain sight from his seat in the Scully Park grandstand.
City coach Brad Fittler and fellow Blues legends such as Paul Sironen and Steve Roach have already urged Daley to take a chance on the 21-year-old whose only blot on Sunday was two missed tackles in City's convincing victory.
After a couple of try-scoring opportunities for both sides were pulled back for forward passes early in the piece Country scored first through Boyd Cordner in the 14th minute.
The lead-up work was carried out by one former Origin player in James Maloney and another who soon will be, Jack Bird. After Maloney went to the line Bird hit Cordner with a short ball to crash through the tackle of Tyrone Peachey.
Country continued to dominate territory and possession but Roosters utility Ryan Matterson turned the game on its head when he snatched a pass from Bird as Country attacked the City line.
Matterson got as far as the Country 20-metre line before he concocted a clever flick pass for Josh Mansour who was dragged down five metres short of the line.
The Country resistance was not able to hold out any further and some slick hands to the left caught the Country defence short and Aaron Gray scored the first of his three tries.
His second came courtesy of a Cartwright grubber kick close to the line and when Leilani Latu displayed that there is more than sheer brute force to his game with a deft pass for Kyle Lovett to crash over and an 18-6 lead at half-time.
The City procession continued into the opening minutes of the second half and again it was Cartwright playing the leading hand, a chip kick inside the Country 20m line forcing an error from Jack Wighton and leading to a try for Nathan Peats under the posts.
Gray grabbed his third when a spiralling Aidan Sezer bomb couldn't be harnessed by the Country fullback and when Mansour got in on the act the City side had opened up a 34-6 lead with 31 minutes still left on the clock.
Country worked their way back into the contest with tries to Euan Aitken and Jack de Belin but Gray's fourth try and one to Matterson kept the City team well out of harm's way heading into the final 10 minutes, Country skipper James Maloney scoring his second try after the full-time siren had sounded.
NSW City Origin 44. Tries: Gray (4), Lovett, Peats, Mansour, Matterson. Goals: Sezer (6/8).
NSW Country Origin 30. Tries: Maloney (2), Cordner, Aitken, de Belin. Goals: Croker (5/5).