James Tedesco has welcomed the challenge of fending off multimillion dollar code-hopper Jarryd Hayne for the coveted NSW No.1 jumper next year.
The Wests Tigers fullback fulfilled a childhood dream when he made his State of Origin debut for the Blues in game three last month.
Tedesco toiled courageously, battling through a series of horror injuries to establish himself as the state’s best fullback and finally broke through on the back of sustained form.
However the NRL return of Hayne, who was the incumbent NSW custodian before his departure to the NFL and Rugby Sevens, threatens to break Tedesco’s hold on the position.
Rather than kick stones, Tedesco welcomed Hayne’s signing with Gold Coast on Wednesday as a coup for rugby league and an opportunity to test himself against one of the great fullbacks.
“That’s a challenge next year to keep that jersey off him,” Tedesco said.
“He was fullback when NSW won the series and he had a great series.
“That’s the way it is – it could be Jarryd, it could be any fullback next year coming to take that jersey.
“Even though I was the last one to play in it, the jersey’s not mine. There’s always players coming to take that spot.”
Hayne’s arrival back in Australia provides NSW coach Laurie Daley with a killer selection headache for the 2017 series.
Hayne was the difference in the Blues’ breakthrough series win in 2014 while Tedesco was among the side’s best in Origin III, running for 231m and going within inches of scoring in a standout performance.
It also potentially sets up a mouth-watering clash between the two star fullbacks next Saturday when the Titans face the Tigers, should Hayne be cleared in time, as expected.
The game will be played at Campbelltown Stadium, just 15km down the road from Minto where Hayne grew up, with a bumper crowd likely.
“I haven’t really played him since 2013, I think,” Tedesco said.
“I think I’ve improved a lot as a player since.
“He obviously set the standard as a fullback. He was one of the best fullbacks in the game at the time and it’s a chance for me to step up my game and get up on his level.”