Panthers stars answer City Origin SOS for Fittler
RUGBY LEAGUE: After hitting the phones in search of 17 players willing to play as late as Monday morning, Brad Fittler has turned to NRL stragglers Penrith to save his City Origin teamsheet.
Five Panthers have been named for City, with skipper Matt Moylan leading a contingent that includes Tyrone Peachey, Bryce Cartwright, James Tamou and halfback Nathan Cleary making his senior rep debut from the bench.
The naming of Fittler's side had been delayed by at least three hours on Monday morning "due to a large number of eligible players becoming unavailable for various reasons".
Paul Gallen is coming out of representative retirement to lead the side that also features rep rookies Nathan Ross and Pauli Pauli (Newcastle), Josh Addo-Carr (Melbourne), Hame Sele and Jake Marketo (Dragons), Cleary and David Gower (Parramatta).
Country counterpart Craig Fitzgibbon named his side as planned, with Cody Walker and Tyrone Roberts partnering in the halves and livewire youngsters Brian Kelly (Manly) and Connor Watson (Roosters) handed representative debuts.
Canterbury coach Des Hasler's decision to make a large contingent of his players unavailable Sunday's fixture in Mudgee has since been replicated by the Raiders and North Queensland, robbing the final City-Country clash of serious star power before it is scrapped next 2018.
Only Bulldogs youngster Adam Elliott - fresh from a two-try showing against Canberra - and Sharks veteran Matt Prior have been named from those sides for Country, while the likes of Jack Wighton, Jarrod Croker and Jack Bird are all sitting out.
A call will also have to be made by Dragons back-rower Tariq Sims, who was named for County on the same day Fiji included him in its squad for the Saturday evening showdown with Tonga.
Meanwhile, Kieran Foran will return to the Test scene for the first time in two years after he was included in David Kidwell's New Zealand team to face the Kangaroos on Friday.
With Foran returning to top form, his selection was a no-brainer but Kidwell has chosen one player right out of left-field with Storm youngster Brandon Smith, who is yet to make his NRL debut, selected to be part of the squad.
Smith was poached from the Cowboys over the off-season by Melbourne and is seen as the long-term successor to captain Cameron Smith's No. 9 jumper - who incidentally is lining up for his 50th Kangaroos Test this week.
Kidwell has also been forced to replace monster rookie Nelson Asofa-Solomona after he sustained a broken hand in the Storm's win over the Dragons on Sunday afternoon.
Wests Tigers lock Elijah Taylor comes into the 20-man squad, having not played for New Zealand since the 2013 World Cup.