A try at the death by City centre Will Hopoate and a conversion after the siren by Adam Reynolds have seen their side snatch a thrilling 26-26 draw with Country in front of 9627 diehard fans at Dubbo's Caltex Park on Sunday.
While a Country victory looked likely after a well-orchestrated game from Knights halves Tyrone Roberts and Jarrod Mullen, it wasn't enough to seal the victory as City overcame an early lack of cohesion to score three tries in an amazing final four minutes. However, Country retained the shield after winning the match last year.
With the game being touted as a genuine Origin trial by NSW coach Laurie Daley – who watched on in the grandstand – the likes of Beau Scott, Jamal Idris, Hopoate, Josh Jackson, Andrew Fifita, Aaron Woods, Daniel Tupou and James McManus did their chances no harm.
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Gold Coast Titans duo and great friends David Mead and Kevin Gordon scored three of Country's five tries in what proved to be a happy representative debut for both men, while Tupou scored a great double for City.
It only took two tackles for City to concede their first error. With Australian coach Tim Sheens also watching in the grandstand, dumped Kangaroos prop Fifita couldn't control the ball when it mattered – although Country was held out despite attacking in good territory.
The first try came in the 11th minute for the Country boys through the quick-thinking of captain Scott. Handed the ball by Knights teammate Mullen, Scott was met by several defenders before he managed to get his arm free and throw the offload back inside to his fullback David Mead, with a conversion from Roberts giving Country a 6-0 lead.
Six minutes later City hit back with a magnificent try. With Fifita taking what looked to be a standard hit-up, the big man threw an offload to his supporting fullback Matt Moylan, who raced 30 metres downfield and chipped over the top for City five-eighth Josh Reynolds to regather the pill and cross the white stripe.
With City mounting constant pressure – forcing a goal-line drop-out soon after – the Country team held strong until the last tackle. In the 23rd minute, lanky winger and Tupou leaped high above his opposite man McManus after his halfback Adam Reynolds put in an inch-perfect cross-field kick to set up a 10-6 advantage.
While he is a wizard when attacking the ball off huge bombs, Tupou had no such luck picking up the scraps from a massive Tyrone Roberts torpedo with 10 minutes left in the half.
Off the following set the Country boys would level the playing field once again, with interchange hooker Josh McCrone making an instant impact. McCrone threw a swift cut-out ball to Kevin Gordon, who did extremely well to stay in the field of play to level the scores up at 10-all.
Country were at it again three minutes later after a Mullen 40/20 saw his team get a repeat set deep in City territory. Fullback Mead crossed for his second try seconds later to set up a 16-10 half-time lead in what was proving to be a good day for Titans try-scorers.
City held the majority of the possession to kick-off the second half, although they weren't good enough to come up with the chocolates. After three attacking sets from City at their try-line, the Country defence held strong.
Further poor discipline continued to hurt the Country lads but poor attacking plays weren't helping the City slickers either. With City's fifth-tackle options seemingly boiling down to kick to Tupou', and Country struggling to keep a handle on the ball, the game turned into a temporarily misdirected affair.
With 18 minutes remaining, the Country broke the second-half deadlock against the run of play. A chip kick from five-eighth Mullen across to his centre Idris saw the boys from the bush extend their lead to 22-10.
Country extended their lead again in the 69th minute through the hands of McManus. With Jamal Idris taking a run one off the ruck, the Penrith centre left his opposite man Dylan Walker begging before throwing a basketball-esque pass to the Knights winger, who dived over in the corner.
With Tupou crossing again and Fifita scoring a runaway try, the City side snatched a draw in the final four minutes in gobsmacking fashion – leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of the Dubbo faithful.
The final try came after the ball travelled from one side of the field to the other multiple times, going through countless City hands, before Hopoate barged his way over close to the goalposts for an easy equaliser for Reynolds, leaving the game at 26-apiece.
In great news for every club represented, there were was one injury concern to come out of the afternoon, with Country and Cowboys forward Tariq Sims rolling his ankle in what doctors would describe as a minor injury at worst.
Country 26 (Mead 2, Gordon, McManus, Idris tries; Roberts 3 goals) drew with City 26 (Tupou 2, J. Reynolds, Fifita, Hopoate tries; A. Reynolds 3 goals). Crowd:9627.