As Jack de Belin talked up his NSW Origin credentials in the St George Illawarra Dragons dressing room after Thursday night’s season-opening win against Brisbane, Queensland coach Kevin Walters was waiting by the door to speak with Ben Hunt.
The first match of the Telstra Premiership had not long finished but State of Origin is never far from the minds of players, fans and the media, and both de Belin and Hunt staked timely claims as Walters and his NSW counterpart Brad Fittler were watching on at Jubilee Oval.
While Walters was there in his capacity as Broncos assistant coach, he visited the Dragons dressing room and talked with Hunt for several minutes before leaving the ground.
Undoubtedly he would have been impressed by the performance of the new Dragons halfback, who told NRL.com before the match that he hopes to win the Maroons No.7 jersey made vacant by the representative retirements of Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston.
Fittler, who was part of Channel Nine’s commentary team, would have also liked what he saw from de Belin, who was 18th man for the Blues last year and declared himself ready to make the step up to Origin.
”My game is suited to Origin and I feel like I would add a lot to the Blues,” de Belin said.
”Obviously with Freddy as coach now there is a new wave coming through and I want to be a part of it.”
At 27-years-of-age and with more than 130 NRL games under his belt, de Belin knows it is time to take his game to the next level. He led the way for the Dragons on Thursday night by making 32 tackles and running 126 metres with the ball.
”I feel like I am at the perfect age now where I know my game and I feel very comfortable with that,” de Belin said.
With James Graham, Paul Vaughan and Leeson Ah Mau also carrying the ball for more than 100 metres, the Dragons forwards dominated their Broncos opponents, laying the platform for Hunt to enjoy a dream debut alongside five-eighth Gareth Widdop.
”We were definitely physical and I feel like we won the ruck,” de Belin said.
”That is our job as middles, we’ve got to do that week in and week out.
”Ben Hunt is a great addition for us. He is just a calm head and just having that steady half to complement Gareth is only going to make us better.”
Hunt set up a try for Test forward Tyson Frizell and intercepted a pass from Matt Lodge to run 45 metres and score in the 50th minute in a decisive blow to the Broncos.
He said he recognised the play and sprinted out of the defensive line to put pressure on Anthony Milford.
”I sort of knew the play they were running and I actually just went up to jam in on Milford, and I got there a bit early so I had a crack at the ball,” Hunt said.
”It was pretty exciting. I always get excited to score a try but to get my first one for the new team felt pretty nice.
”That is the standard we need to play each week and we have to improve on that. I thought we were a bit shaky in attack at times. We were not as crisp as we’d like to be so I still think there is some room for improvement.”