The Roar
The Roar


Origin News: Star duo hampered at training, Blues debutant a Maroons fan 'since day dot', Teddy a Rooster booster

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29th May, 2024

NSW will lean heavily on an all-conquering touch-footy partnership forged a decade ago as new Blues halfback Nicho Hynes faces a restricted build-up to the State of Origin series opener.

Sporting running shoes instead of football boots, Hynes was an observer as the Blues hit the training paddock for the first time at the Blue Mountains School on Wednesday.

Blues staff expect Hynes, who is battling a lingering calf issue, will train on Thursday. 

The Cronulla halfback has been adamant the complaint would not hold him back in the build-up to Origin I in Sydney next Wednesday, when he will be patterned with Penrith five-eighth Jarome Luai.

Unlike his predecessor Brad Fittler, who was happy for the media to observe training, new Blues coach Michael Maguire asked journalists to leave NSW camp after the opening 15 minutes of Wednesday’s first session.

Halfback Nathan Cleary, who will miss the entire series with a hamstring tear, also observed from the sidelines. 

By keeping the Blues at arm’s length from the media, Hynes’ fitness will continue to be a hot topic until Maguire’s side step onto Accor Stadium next week.


Sydney Roosters five-eighth Luke Keary, who is part of Maguire’s extended squad, looms as the most likely replacement for Hynes. 

“He (Hynes) did a little bit, a lot of watching,” Blues back-rower Angus Crichton said on Wednesday. 

“But we obviously back the physio staff with their plan with him, and if he’s right he’ll play.

“‘Kez’ (Keary) is a pro, he’s been there in big games and grand finals and I think he’s really ready for it if the call comes for him.

“I think Nicho will be sweet, but if he’s not I think Keary is a pretty handy replacement.” 

The conjecture over Hynes’ fitness leaves Maguire banking on the chemistry Hynes and Luai built as touch footballers playing for a NSW schoolboy team.

The duo have never played senior rugby league together, but they can take some comfort from the fact that they hit it off on the right note as touch footy players. 


As 14-year-olds, in a side that also included Bevan French, Jackson Hastings and Matt Dufty, Luai and Hynes enjoyed great success.

And, for the record, they beat Queensland. “I played touch footy with Nicho back in high school, we were untouchable back in those days,” Luai said. 

“We represented NSW at school level in our touch days, so we’ve had some connection in the past, so it’s pretty cool to see where we are now on the biggest stage in our game.

“I’m pretty excited to rekindle what we had back then. But whatever happens (with his calf) we’ll take it one day at a time. He’s looking really good and I’m excited about that.”

As well as concerns over Hynes’ fitness, NSW have also taken a cautious approach with back-rower Liam Martin.

The Penrith forward has been named to start in the series opener, but was on a modified regimen as he battles a hamstring complaint. 

Maguire is blessed with back-row options should Martin fail to be ready for Origin I, with Manly’s Haumole Olakau’atu and Canberra ace Hudson Young on his bench.  


Haumole admits Maroons past

Haumole Olakau’atu has a confession that he hopes NSW fans can forgive him for. The Blues forward grew up a Queensland fan.

“If I’m going to be honest, I was growing up going for the Maroons,” Olakau’atu admitted on his first full day in Blues camp. 

“I didn’t know footy at the time when I was young. I did play footy, but I didn’t know that it was such a big thing. 

“My old man was a Maroons supporter as well, so I knew nothing but Maroons every time Origin came up.”

It’s why the Guilford junior grew up loving the likes of Greg Inglis and Johnathan Thurston, as NSW won only one series between his seventh and 19th birthdays.


And also the reason behind Olakau’atu’s social media post after Game I in 2022, when he wrote “Been a Maroons since day dot” on Instagram.

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” Olakau’atu said on Tuesday. 

“I was stupid. I was childish. I hope all the NSW fans can forgive me.”

Now, though, the powerful Manly back-rower is adamant he is a true Blue.

“I started to realise over the years when I was playing, I live here in NSW,” Olakau’atu said. 

“So I deserve to be a Blues supporter.

“Since playing in first grade I’ve realised I’m Blues through and through.”


Olakau’atu’s emotion about being picked for his NSW debut is clear.

He was left speechless when called by coach Michael Maguire on Sunday, and his father Ola was in tears beside him.

First spotted by Manly while waiting in the car watching his close friend Manase Fainu train for under-20s, he has become one of the most powerful second-rowers in the NRL.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 28: (L-R) Cameron McInnes, Haumole Olakau'atu, Zac Lomax, Spencer Leniu, Dylan Edwards and Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii of the Blues pose during a New South Wales Blues State of Origin media opportunity at NSWRL Centre of Excellence on May 28, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Blues debutants Cameron McInnes, Haumole Olakau’atu, Zac Lomax, Spencer Leniu, Dylan Edwards and Joseph Suaalii. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The 26-year-old has admitted speculation over Origin selection had impacted his football in recent years, including last year when he narrowly missed out to Keaon Koloamatangi.

“At first I was disappointed, I’m not gonna lie,” Olakau’atu said. “I did feel a bit of fire with it.”

This year, though, it has been different. The second-rower has worked closely with Manly’s mental skills coach Andrew May, with breathing exercises helping keep him on track. “It’s just with all breathing work and trying to narrow my focus closer to game days,” Olakau’atu said. 


“It’s all these mindful things he’s been telling us to do. It’s helped me a lot in the last year. It really does work when you actually do it.”

Fresh Tedesco to spice up Roosters

The Sydney Roosters are hoping NSW’s loss is their gain as revealing data exposes just how vulnerable the Tricolours are without inspirational skipper James Tedesco.

Tedesco’s axing from the Blues for next week’s State of Origin opener against Queensland will leave the Australian captain available for full club duty during the interstate representative period for the first time since he joined the Roosters in 2018.

AAP can reveal the Roosters have only won 12 of 26 games during Tedesco’s run of 22 consecutive Origin appearance for NSW at a strike rate of just 46 per cent.

But while the Bondi-based glamour club have won eight from 11 matches without Tedesco on deck while he’s on Origin duties, it’s the side’s galling four-from-15 success rate when the superstar No.1 backs up during the gruelling series that may surprise – and alarm – Roosters fans.

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Manly Sea Eagles
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Either way, teammates are relishing having a fresh Tedesco against North Queensland on Sunday and presumably the entire Origin series unless the 31-year-old earns a recall.

“It’s massive for us,” centre Joey Many said on Tuesday.

“Usually he’s always away, but I’m happy that he’s going to be playing with us this week.

“He’s a champion player. He’s done pretty much everything in the game.

“Obviously you want to see him play in Origin, but he’s been playing awesome all year.

“I just try to run off him. He’s been giving me some great ball lately.”


Halfback Sam Walker expects Tedesco to bounce back from his Origin snubbing “like he always does”.

“He’s going to kill it,” Walker said, predicting the Roosters having the influential fullback on hand for more games will only enhance their prospects of emerging from Origin as Penrith’s biggest threat to a fourth straight premiership.

“It’s always an interesting time of the year. It’s  make or break for a lot of clubs that sort of border in there and they might lose a couple of players.

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - MAY 25: James Tedesco of the Roosters in action during the round 12 NRL match between Canberra Raiders and Sydney Roosters at GIO Stadium, on May 25, 2024, in Canberra, Australia.

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

“I think we’re in a really good position as a club with the depth we have.

“Obviously Penrith are a class team – they’ve won the last three conferences.

“It’s no secret that they’ll be in amongst it at the end of the year.


“We had an opportunity at the start of the year to beat them and we weren’t up to that.

“But I feel like we’ve really progressed as a club and as a team over the last five or six weeks to put ourselves in a position.

“I believe we were the best team and that we’ll be there at the end of the year, and that’s the confidence that we’re instilling at the club at the moment.”

Roosters with and witout Tedesco in Origin period

WITHOUT TEDESCO 2018-2023 – won 8, lost 3

beat Wests Tigers 16-14
beat Gold Coast 20-12
beat Canterbury 38-12
beat Wests Tigers 24-16
lost to North Queensland 15-12
beat Gold Coast 35-34
beat Canterbury 22-16
beat North Queensland 34-18
lost to Canberra 22-16
beat Newcastle 18-16
lost to Melbourne 30-16

WITH TEDESCO – won 4, lost 11


beat Newcastle 18-16
beat Penrith 32-6
lost to Melbourne 9-8
lost to Penrith 19-10
lost to Melbourne 14-12
lost to Penrith 38-12
lost to Melbourne 46-0
lost to Melbourne 26-18
lost to Parramatta 26-16
lost to Penrith 26-18
beat St George Illawarra 54-26
beat Canterbury 25-24
lost to Penrith 30-6
lost to Canberra 20-18
lost to Manly 18-16


Won 12, lost 14