'He was too nice': How Welch developed Origin-like qualities

Forget State of Origin - there was a time when Christian Welch’s coaches worried that he was too nice to play rugby league at all.

On Tuesday Welch will take part in his first training session as a bonafide member of the Queensland Maroons Origin squad.

Fittingly, it's at the ground where he first proved his worth.

A kid who had moved down having played four years of hockey in Gladstone to captain Villanova’s First XV in the Brisbane GPS rugby competition, Welch trialled for the Easts Tigers under-18s and was initially overlooked.

He returned to Langlands Park to trial again the following year and after 15 minutes was dragged from the field, the Easts’ coaching panel seeing enough to know he would be a walk-up starter in their Mal Meninga Cup team.

Welch was a centre back then but at the urging of the Melbourne Storm transitioned into a front-rower in his later teenage years, but still the doubts remained.

He had talent. There was an offload. And boy was he big. But it was still hard to reconcile that such a polite young man had the inner fortitude to get down and dirty when it was required.

They soon discovered that their concerns were misplaced.

“I thought at times that he was too nice,” recalls Craig Ingebrigtsen, who was head coach at Easts when Welch made his Intrust Super Cup debut.

“But as soon as we got into some wrestling and contact at training we found out that he certainly was aggressive and a winner.

“His attention to detail and learning and application was really good but as soon as we did contact and wrestle that aggression certainly was at the forefront of it all. He wanted the collision.

“We decided to move him into the middle of the ruck, which a lot of people thought was fraught with danger, but he excelled at it.

“The harder it got the better he went.”

Widely regarded as one of the genuine good guys in the NRL for the work he has done with charities, Welch’s most recent act of kindness was to arrange a weekend at Magic Round in Brisbane for Toowoomba nine-year-old Angus Hopkins.

A news report on the Hopkins family struggling to get access to a specialised wheelchair for Angus to use on the farm sent Welch into action.

After initially responding to a post on Twitter, Welch organised and paid for the accommodation in Brisbane for the family to attend Magic Round, with Angus a special guest in the sheds of the Broncos, his favourite team.

They are the two very different sides to Welch, who has been on the verge of an Origin call-up for the past two years.

Matt Lodge and Tim Glasby can both attest to Welch’s competitive nature during wrestling drills on the training park but like his off-field persona, it is the multi-dimensional nature of his play on the field that made Ingebrigtsen believe he was a Maroon waiting to happen.

He quickly progressed out of under 18s and into under 20s and then was thrown into the front row against men at 19 years of age, providing the platform for future Origin players Cody Walker and Cameron Munster to unleash their attacking flair.

“What I liked about him was that he had something different about him. He wasn’t just straight up and down,” Ingebrigtsen tells NRL.com.

“He had a good carry rate but a genuine offload at that age. Usually they don’t get into that until they mature at 23, 24 years of age but he already had that as part of his game.

“He attracted a lot of numbers for us. He’d have three or four blokes in a tackle, get his hip and shoulders side on at the line and then offload.

“Cody Walker picked up a lot of second phase off him and even Munster when he was with us.”

Next Wednesday Welch will take another step up the rugby league totem pole but his former Intrust Super Cup coach has no doubt that next time he is back in Brisbane he will pop in and say thanks to those who helped along the way.

“Even when he went to Melbourne as a young fella, when he came home to see his parents he’d always come into the Easts office to say g'day to everybody,” Ingebrigtsen recalls.

“It was wonderful for a young man who was just making his way as a full-time footballer to remember where it all started.

“That always resonates with me and why I’m so happy for him. He’ll do a great job for Queensland.”