Xavier Coates was so starstruck the first time he was called into Maroons camp for his Origin debut in 2020, he spent the first day introducing himself to his favourite players.
Six Origin appearances later, Coates might no longer be the awestruck kid he once was, but said he was just as excited to be called back in for a potential series victory, saying it felt like he was pulling the Queensland jersey on for the first time again.
With Selwyn Cobbo ruled out with a hip-pointer injury he re-aggravated during Brisbane’s win against the Knights, Coates got the call-up from coach Billy Slater after a starring two-try performance in Melbourne's win over the Sharks – adamant as ever he was going to make the most of the opportunity.
“There’s something special about this Queensland community and this Queensland group and the Maroons jersey when you pull it on. I'm just really looking forward to being a part of this camp,” Coates said.
Coates sends message to Billy Slater
“I was pretty ecstatic for the opportunity to pull the jersey on again and I'm taking it with both hands and I'm trying to pick apart their (coaching staff and players) brains.
“They're feeding me so much knowledge and I'm just trying to take it all in and become a better player for Queensland.”
Under Slater, the Maroons have maintained a strong focus on doing the jersey proud for past players and those who can’t be there, with Coates saying he wanted to play well for Cobbo.
“I know Selwyn pulled up not 100% and that's where Bill touched base with me and asked how would I feel like putting on this Maroons jersey?’,” Coates said.
“The boys, last year in Game Two and Three, when I was injured, they were messaging me, seeing how I was doing and they were telling me that they're going to play for me.
“So, now it's my opportunity to play for Selwyn and to help the boys out and do my role to the best of my ability.
“It's something we always touch on in our camps and it's working for each other.
“When you're out in the field doing it tough, you're not working for yourself, you look over to the mate beside you and you're going to do it for him.
“It's something really special. I know I keep using the word special but it is, it's something about this Queensland spirit and something about this Maroons jersey that when we pull it on, something special happens.”
Match: Maroons v Blues
Game 2 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
A bit like his club Melbourne, the PNG international has had a fluctuating season, but has worked hard to get back into the type of form to attract the eye of selectors. Likely to line up against Josh Addo-Carr – but also potentially Brian To’o should he swap sides for Game Two – his aerial ability was another attractive factor for the side, providing a key target in attack.
His Storm teammate Cameron Munster, who will be keen to see his winger latch on to his kicks, said he was “really happy” to see Coates back.
“He's been working hard,” Munster said.
“I know he got the opportunity last year in Game One and then did his syndesmosis and he was out for the whole Origin series, so for him to be able to earn his spot back (is good).
“It's disappointing for Selwyn, he's got a hip pointer and he's not 100%, so it’s next man up mentality … it's good depth.
“If ‘X’ plays really good footy for this game, and Selwyn’s fresh, ready to go for Game Three, it's going to be a good headache for Billy to have and it's exciting for Queensland to have … so much depth and so much talent waiting to go.”
Munster was in a mood to create
Approaching his seventh game in Maroon, Coates said he was more comfortable being in the squad and amongst the players and was hoping to “soak up the camp”.
“That week leading into (my debut), I was buzzing the whole week, as I should be,” Coates said. “But I think using my energy in the wrong places.
“I remember coming into 2020, I got the call up to get into the Origin squad and I was in there, I was starstruck because all the boys that I was watching on the TV play Origin.
“I was (at) training and I was going up introducing myself to all the boys and they're like, ‘no, you don't need to introduce yourself. We know who you are’.
“The more games you play, the more experienced you become and the more camps you're a part of, the better.
“You understand how to use your energy and what to focus on.”