Knights five-eighth Jarrod Mullen says he'll be treating Sunday's Country versus City match in Dubbo as a serious chance to reclaim his position in the NSW State of Origin side.
Mullen hasn’t played Origin since his one-off appearance in 2007, but on the back of his selection in the Country team he believes he is edging closer to a return to the game's highest arena.
The 27-year-old is currently locked in a battle with Bulldogs playmaker Josh Reynolds and Souths star John Sutton for the Blues' No.6 jumper and has no doubts a strong performance on Sunday will significantly enhance his claims.
"Probably in the past the City versus Country has had a bad name because it’s just another game, but it actually looks like a true Origin trial and stepping stone this year," Mullen says.
"A few boys could play their way into a jersey or out of a jersey, so it’s definitely going to be a very tough game and I’m sure all the boys are excited to play.
"I’ve looked at the side and it looks like we’ve got a real good bunch of blokes, so I’m really looking forward to getting into camp.
"They’ve picked probably the best sides they can.
"Obviously there are other blokes in the Australian side or other blokes that are probably guaranteed a spot like Mitchell Pearce.
"But there are definitely a few spots up for grabs, so we are going to take the game very seriously."
Mullen attributes much of his progression to coach Wayne Bennett, a bloke who has given him the confidence to become Newcastle's main man in attack.
"He (Wayne) has definitely put a lot of confidence in me to just go out there and believe in myself," he says.
"Probably in the past I’ve doubted myself, but he has put a lot of confidence in me.
"So I’ve got a lot to thank him for."
Mullen says playing for Country is always a special occasion, especially given his upbringing in rural towns Singleton and Taree.
"This is the fourth time I’m going to play for Country and every time I’m very, very proud of it," he says.
"I’ve still got a lot of family that live out in the country, so they are going to be very proud as well.
"So I’m looking forward to playing."
Mullen will team up with Knights teammate Tyrone Roberts in the halves for Country.
He is pumped at the prospect of working with Roberts and seeing him excel at the representative level.
"I couldn’t be happier for Tyrone," he enthuses.
"It’s just a reward for his consistency. He has been playing very well for us in the last couple of years.
"I was with him yesterday when he found out and he was very, very excited.
"He plays his best footy when he is confident, so hopefully this gives him a bit of a boost.
"Once you come away from these games or camps at a high level, he’ll hopefully come back and put some good performances in for Newcastle."
Mullen says the Country team will be playing for former CRL Chairman and passionate country man Jock Colley, who tragically passed away from a stroke in February.
"I’ve had a bit to do with Jock in the past and it’s obviously tragic what happened," he says.
"I know he lived and breathed country rugby league, so I’m sure the boys will have him in the back of our minds when we are out there playing.
"Because I know how passionate he was about country, so we’ll be out there playing for him definitely."