NSW coach Laurie Daley's hopes of using the annual City-Country clash as a genuine State of Origin trial suffered a massive blow following the withdrawal of Trent Merrin and Josh Dugan.
Merrin (hand) and Dugan (ankle) both pulled out because of injury on Tuesday, leaving a massive hole in Country coach Trent Barrett's plans.
Both proven Blues performers, Merrin and Dugan remain in the forefront of selection consideration for Origin, however, it has opened the door for NSW bolters to emerge in their place as Daley attempts to stop Queensland winning a ninth straight series.
NSW hopeful Jarrod Mullen is adamant the City-Country game remains a genuine platform for him to return to the State of Origin arena.
He admitted he wasn't really ready for State of Origin football as a 20-year-old halfback novice in 2007.
But he is now and has promised Daley he won't let the Blues down if he's handed a second chance for the Origin opener against Queensland in Brisbane on May 28.
Seven long years ago Mullen was thrust into the No 7 hot seat ahead of several more experienced candidates and hasn't been sighted in the Origin arena since.
The Newcastle playmaker now concedes his surprise selection for the Blues in 2007 "probably came a bit early".
"I'd only played 10 or 12 games at halfback and to get selected at halfback was a good honour," Mullen said on Tuesday.
"It probably seemed like it came a bit too easy because I'd only just started playing first grade and then I was playing Origin.
"I realise now that it's a lot harder and I'm probably a more consistent player and obviously an older sort of player.
"I'm definitely more ready now. And probably back then I got thrown into it because there wasn't anyone else to throw in.
"But, yeah, I reckon I'm ready for it now and I won't let anyone down if I get selected."
With NSW's incumbent No 6 James Maloney sidelined, Mullen will line up on Sunday for Country against Canterbury's Josh Reynolds in Dubbo in what the Knights star hopes is a showdown for the Blues' five-eighth spot.
"Obviously there's a few injuries around the halves at the moment, so I think it is a genuine State of Origin selection trial," Mullen said.
"You look at Boyd Cordner last year. He went from Country on to play for NSW and Australia, so it's a good stepping stone towards that.
"But I've got a job to do for Country and, if I do that and we win the game, hopefully that goes towards it. So I know if I get the shot again, I'll take it with both hands."
Country's 18th man Tyson Frizell also pulled out with an ankle complaint.
St George Illawarra officials remain optimistic all three will be fit to play against the top-of-the-ladder Bulldogs on Sunday week, but the trio will be assessed this week
Gold Coast fullback David Mead replaced Dugan, North Queensland's Tariq Sims was elevated from the bench to the starting side in place of Merrin and Newcastle youngster Robbie Rochow came in for Sims as a reserve.
Canberra's Shaun Fensom was named 18th man. AAP