Photo courtesy of Queensland Rugby League
Dear Cam and Benny,
Wednesday night may just be one of the biggest matches of your Rugby League careers. I’ve followed you both closely over the years and couldn’t be happier for the two of you.
As I thought about this impending game for you both, I felt it would be good timing to pass on some advice from one Origin deciding debutante to another.
Getting the call up to the Origin team back in 2002 was a pleasant surprise. I’d only played 14 games of first grade and was chucked on the interchange bench of a decider in New South Wales. I remember Gene Miles on the other end of the phone congratulating me. I couldn’t have been more bloody excited. I was calling the girlfriend (my now wife), mum, dad and sisters. The enormity of the match and what was on the line didn’t hit me at the time. I was just stoked to be playing Origin.
I preferred not to say too much in my first Origin camp, but made sure to be seen putting in. I wasn’t going to be intimidated but wanted to soak everything up and not miss a thing. Putting on my first bit of training gear and taking my first media call was something I won’t forget. All I kept thinking was, ‘this is unreal!’ It’s not every day fellas, that you get to pull on that Maroon jersey and play in a decider. Lap it up!
As much as I’d love for you to enjoy the week, you must prepare yourself. Be on top of everything. That goes for diet, hydration and sleep. Get all the little things out of the way earlier in the week. When you’re training, smash it out of the park. Promise me that when you look back at your week right before kick-off, you’ve ticked every box. I remember through my Origin career, big Mal would harp on this.
You’re both so lucky to be a part of this culture. Whether it’s a 20 gamer or a debutante like yourself, you’re welcomed with open arms. Back in my day there were some big personalities amongst the group and it wasn’t as easy to fit in. Be yourself amongst the guys. You’ve been picked because of the hard work you put in week in, week out. You don’t have to change anything about your game. Whatever you do don’t try and rise above the occasion. Never let yourself get to that point.
Before you run out on to the pitch even for warmups, be 100% clear on what your role is. Mal was big on this. We all had a role to play. I visualised for days that part of my role was I had to catch the ball on the full and do whatever it takes to bring it back to the middle of the field. Know your role; it’s part of the reason you were picked.
In my early days I got a little caught up in the emotion of the series. Along with every other person in Queensland, I hated the Blues. As I got older I made a big effort to take it out of my preparation. It was a massive help.
It sounds cliché, but go and get that early touch, whether it be a tackle or a hit up. I’ll never, ever forget my first time running on to the pitch. I like to tell people it was an out of body experience.
I received the interchange card and made the dash out in front of 80 odd thousand people in Sydney. 80 bloody thousand. Holy shit! All I remember was it went completely silent. I found myself looking down at my boots, my socks, my shorts and then my jersey. Glancing up and seeing those blue jerseys, it hit me right at that moment; ‘I’m playing Origin football’. What felt like 2-3 minutes was 2-3 seconds. The enormity of the match hit me smack in the face right then and there.
I’m actually playing out my childhood dream. What a surreal feeling!
Benny, you’d have felt it first hand every week and Cam, on the odd occasion; there’s no better place to play footy than at Suncorp. Anyone who plays Origin be it for QLD or NSW would have to agree with that. Remember to try and keep a lid on those emotions. I found it damn tough. I absolutely loved playing with my heart on my sleeve.
If you’re looking for leadership you’ve got the best in the business; Smithy. He has that aura about him. When he speaks everyone pays attention. You’ve both played in big games, Grand Finals. This occasion isn’t going to be foreign to you.
Every Origin match you learn something about yourself. You learn about preparation, rights, wrongs and the physical and mental toughness required. You’ll learn quickly how to cope with pressures and expectations. You’ll learn that you’ve got to push yourself in key moments of a game where hell, it may just be uncomfortable. It’s the price you learn to pay to win Origin games.
The Origin experience is extremely hard to replicate. I’m so grateful I got the opportunity to be a part of it all and share in the successes of the Queensland dynasty.
Australian former professional rugby league footballer of the 2000s, and 2010s. An Australia national and Queensland State of Origin representative three-quarter back, he played his club football in the National Rugby League for the Brisbane Broncos (with whom he won the 2006 NRL Premiership), the New Zealand Warriors and the North Queensland Cowboys.