Banned Maroons will be hurting: O’Neill

Banned Maroons will be hurting: O’Neill

Old wounds would have been re-opened for the banned Emerging Maroons when the Queensland team was unveiled, Justin O’Neill says.

O’Neill and Corey Oates emerged unscathed from the now infamous camp in January where eight players copped 12-month State of Origin bans for breaking curfew.

The duo were rewarded with an Origin debut after being included in a new-look backline for the June 1 series opener in Sydney.

Cowboys centre O’Neill said the eight banned players would no doubt have been kicking themselves when the Queensland 17 was confirmed on Tuesday night.

“I guess it shows how close a lot of the boys were to getting picked,” O’Neill said.

“To have myself and Corey coming through shows those camps are important.”

O’Neill said he tried not to build up his Origin hopes despite his selection chances improving with so many players banned for 2016.

“I tried not to think of it that way,” he said.

“But at the time I was pretty happy waking up the next morning knowing I did what I was asked to do and gave myself the best chance for this year.

“It was a decision made by those guys at the time that wasn’t the best.

“I think those boys are looking back and feeling pretty disappointed in making that decision.”

O’Neill was rewarded with being asked to fill the shoes left behind by retired great Justin Hodges.

He will form what coach Kevin Walters believes will be a “formidable” centre pairing with Greg Inglis.

“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 of replacing Hodges.

O’Neill, 25, hopes Inglis will help settle his nerves.

“I have actually been rooming with GI, he has been helping me out a little bit,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill may be anxious about the man he is replacing – 24 Origin game 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.

“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.

“I guess I had a slump in my career probably after that camp,” said O’Neill who linked with North Queensland in 2015, featuring in their premiership team.

“The move to North Queensland helped get me to where I am now.”

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