Now that he has stopped to think about it, Queensland State of Origin rookie Justin O’Neill admits it’s a bit daunting being chosen to fill retired Maroons great Justin Hodges’ boots.
“That probably makes me a bit nervous now that you have said it – I probably didn’t think about it that way,” the Cowboys centre said.
O’Neill, 25, hopes Greg Inglis will help settle his nerves before he makes his Queensland debut, along with winger Corey Oates, in the June 1 series opener in Sydney.
O’Neill will form what new Queensland coach Kevin Walters believes will be a “formidable” centres pairing with Inglis.
“I have actually been rooming with GI, he has been helping me out a little bit,” O’Neill said.
“Coming into camp I am thinking I got picked for what I do at club level, I guess I want to be bringing that into the team and maybe step up to another level with these Origin boys.”
O’Neill may be anxious about the man he is replacing – 24-game Origin veteran Hodges – but the North Queensland flyer now wants to make the No.4 Maroons jersey his own.
“Definitely. I want to make a good impression,” he said.
“It is my first game in the jersey, I want to go out there and give it my best.
“When I grew up I always had that fire in my belly every time Origin came around.
“I am just learning what it is all about.”
O’Neill’s Origin debut has been a long time coming.
The former Melbourne strike weapon first got a call-up on standby for Maroons winger Darius Boyd ahead of the 2013 series opener.
Then his NRL career took a turn for the worse.
“I guess I had a slump in my career probably after that camp,” said O’Neill who linked with North Queensland in 2015, chiming into their premiership winning team.
“To come that close (to Origin) was a great experience but then I had some injuries and a few things and had that slump in my career.
“The move to North Queensland has done great things.
“It has helped get me to where I am now.”