OVER the past few seasons, Gerringong's Corey Mulhall has established himself as one of the top forwards in the competition.
This was highlighted when he was named man of the match in Gerringong's grand final win against Warilla-Lake South in 2020.
While his ball-playing continues to improve, thanks to previous stints at five-eighth, what Mulhall hangs his hat on is his defense - where he's become one of the most feared hitmen in the competition.
On the back of his strong showing for the Illawarra South Coast Dragons during the country championships, the 26-year-old was named in the NSW Country side to take on City last week - which included a four-day camp in Wollongong.
"I really enjoyed myself over the four days in Wollongong that we were in camp for," Mulhall said.
"It gave me a chance to play alongside numerous strong players from other country regions, as well as alongside other Group Seven talents Cam [Vazzoler], RJ [Ryan James], Sam [Clune] and Chanse [Perham] - which made my experience all the more enjoyable."
Although Mulhall and his NSW Country side went down 38-12 at the Collegians Sporting Complex on Sunday, he still took a lot away from the match.
"I honestly didn't feel as if I played to my best on Sunday," he said.
"Just in little areas I know I could have been better.
"I didn't execute well enough but still really had a lot of fun out there representing Country against City.
"After playing alongside some really top players, as well as being coached by Beau Scott and Terry Campese, who individually helped me in certain areas in attack and defence, I'm keen to try and implement those skills into a big rest of the season with the Lions."
Gerringong will be happy to welcome back their lock forward after suffering their first loss in 20 months against a resurgent Albion Park-Oak Flats side last round.
"The boys weren't impressed with themselves after that loss," the Kiama High School alumnus said.
"Being up 20-6 at half-time, the boys know they let the foot off the pedal in the second half and the Park took full advantage of that.
"We all know only turning up for half a game against the Sharks won't work.
"As a team, we know our defence has to be better - we need to build more pressure in attack then play off the back of that."
As Mulhall alludes to, his 3-1 Lions will host Shellharbour, who are fresh off their first win against Milton-Ulladulla, this Saturday at Michael Cronin Oval.
"Playing against the Sharks is always a physical fast match up," the four-time premiership player said.
"This weekend we will need to focus on ourselves and what our roles are out there.
"They have numerous talented players that can score points, so again our defence has to be smart.
"In saying that, our game plan won't change for this weekend - we just have to focus on completing our sets and building pressure, which is a big one for us.
"Our pack has to be going forward and dominate the middle battle to allow our talented backs to do their thing."
On the other side of that forward battle will be Sharks prop James Rousell, who admits Sunday's breakthrough win was a massive confidence boost for the Ron Costello Oval-based side.
"It's always good to get the first win of the year," Rousell, 27, said.
"There's plenty of positives to take out of the game but still areas of our game we are keen to improve on.
"To be honest, I don't think our start to the year has been that bad - we've put ourselves in a position to win each of the games, so it's on us players to fix that.
"Wins always gives you confidence and we are keen to build on that this weekend against Gerringong."
Despite the disparity on the ladder, with Gerringong sitting in second and Shellharbour seventh, the pair have produced plenty of fierce contests lately, including the 2015 grand final.
"Gerringong has been the top team over the last couple of seasons and I think a lot of that success comes from their fast pace, high energy style of footy," the Forbes product said.
"If we concentrate on executing our game plan rather than worrying too much about the other team, that will go a long way to getting the win on Saturday.
"It's going to be a good battle and we are all excited for it."
Saturday's match from 3pm will mark the first time the Red Bend Catholic College alumnus has faced the Tri-Colours, with concussion ruling him out from the pair's clash during his debut season with the club.
"I'm really enjoying my time at the club so far - everyone's been really welcoming," he said.
"I know the club has been pretty successful in recent years, so I'm keen to do my part to help continue that."
Saturday's other round six fixture will see league-leaders Jamberoo take on the winless Milton-Ulladulla at Kevin Walsh Oval from 3.30pm - marking captain/coach Jono Dallas' 300th club game for the hosts.
Then on Sunday, Albion Park battles Kiama at Centenary Field and Nowra-Bomaderry takes on Stingrays at Rugby Park - both starting at 3pm.
Warilla has the bye.
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