Heartbroken Cowboy hops back on NRL horse

North Queensland centre Justin O’Neill has revealed how it took him over a month to overcome the disappointment of being axed from this year’s triumphant Queensland State of Origin side.

O’Neill was one of the Maroons heroes when he made his Origin debut in 2016, and was duly rewarded with his maiden Kangaroos jumper in the Four Nations series last year.

But the 26-year-old cut a dejected figure in Townsville after he was dumped for a poor performance in the Maroons’ shock series-opening loss to NSW in Brisbane.

“After the first Origin, I was filthy at myself. I wanted to play the footy I knew I could play, and get back in the Origin side,” O’Neill told AAP.

Billy Slater’s return meant Darius Boyd took O’Neill’s spot for their game two win but when Boyd broke his thumb, Maroons selectors again overlooked O’Neill in favour of Michael Morgan.

It was then that O’Neill diverted his energy back to the Cowboys, who were reeling from the season-ending loss of co-captain Johnathan Thurston.

“When I knew that probably wasn’t going to be the case after the second Origin, when I wasn’t selected, I thought I better change my focus to the Cowboys,” he said.

“We were low on troops at the time and they needed players to step up and we saw that from Michael Morgan, Scott Bolton and Gavin Cooper.

“They needed players in the side to play good footy and hopefully get to where we are today.”

O’Neil admitted the heartbreak of watching the Maroons’ inspirational series comeback from the shadows was difficult to swallow.

“It was hard. It was tough, especially off the back of the year I had last year with Origin. It was disappointing and I was disappointed in myself more than anything,” he said.

O’Neill also had to deal with the pain of an elbow injury he suffered in a loss to Penrith in mid-August that threatened to derail his finals campaign.

However the former Melbourne centre came back a week early in last week’s semi-final win over Parramatta and his experience will be vital for another premiership tilt.

“At first the scans looked bad and it swelled up a fair bit so it looked worse than it was. But after a few weeks of rehab, it settled down and recovery was coming along really quick,” he said.

“I was able to do some stuff in the gym so all the signs were showing that I was on track. I played right on five weeks, so you can probably say I was a week early.”

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