Confident that they finally boast the side to end Queensland’s six-year State of Origin reign, NSW forward Ben Creagh has taken it upon himself to lead the way for the Blues’ young forward pack when they run onto Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium for the series opener on Wednesday night.
Preparing to play his fourth consecutive Origin series after debuting for NSW in 2009, Creagh is desperate to avoid another series loss following last year’s near miss. But with four Blues players making their State of Origin debuts and only two boasting more Origin experience (Paul Gallen and Jarryd Hayne), the 27-year-old told NRL.com that this is the year he must make his Origin mark.
“I’ve played the last two or three series now so I definitely see myself as a bit more of a senior player,” he said. “And I think as a senior player you really need to set an example both at training and in the game as well with how you play your footy.
“I enjoy that role. I enjoy playing it at a club level and I’m looking forward to doing the same now for NSW. I want to set an example for the new guys and the young guys in the side by showing them how to do it.”
Named on the bench for tomorrow night’s clash, Creagh is part of a revamped NSW forward pack that includes newcomers James Tamou, Tony Williams and Jamie Buhrer. The presence of Williams and Buhrer in particular means that Creagh is likely to be used in a more central role when he is eventually thrust into the action, as opposed to the traditional left-edge spot he fills for club side St George Illawarra.
However, the veteran of eight games for NSW said the change suited him well and promised to make a telling difference when given the nod by coach Ricky Stuart.
“That’s the role I see of the guys coming off the bench – to add a bit of impact and spark,” he said. “Obviously the guys that play that first 20 minutes are playing the fastest football of the night so I see it as my job to come on and do whatever is needed – carrying the ball, getting quick play-the-balls wherever I can and hopefully doing my job in defence as well.”
Asked about his more centralised position, Creagh replied: “It will be similar to last year. I think the first game last year I started in the back row and then the next two games [Stuart] put me back to the bench and had me playing in the middle.
“I really enjoyed that last year – playing in the middle. It was a bit of a change for me from playing at club level where I usually play on the edge for 80 minutes.
“I’m a bit wiser from last year too and I know what to expect. I see myself coming on after 20-25 minutes, playing in the middle there and adding a bit of spark to the side.”
While Creagh pointed to last year’s thrilling series as a major stepping stone in the Blues’ bid to return to the top of the Origin tree, he believes this year’s squad provides better balance with both size and skill in the back row and an array of attacking options out wide.
“With the base we set last year and a few of the new inclusions this year, I think we’ve got a real good footy side here,” he said.
“Our forwards – Queensland has a very strong forward pack right across but at the same time we’ve got plenty of big men with guys like Williams and Tamou… very powerful… and I think they complement well with Gal and the back-rowers we’ve got, too. Guys like Glenn Stewart and Luke Lewis are a bit quicker and lighter on their feet, so we’ve got a pretty solid forward pack as well.
“And our backs – Todd (Carney) and Mitch (Pearce) have played before at club level so they’ve already got a bit of a combination there, which is handy. Robbie Farah and Mitch have played in a few City teams together. That’s key, the hooker and the two halves – so far that’s looked pretty good. You can see that they’ve played together before.
“So if those three guys are working well, the rest of us just have to do our job properly by running off them, listening to their instructions and the rest of it flows pretty easily from there.”
Q: How are the preparations for Wednesday night?
A: “Yeah things are going along nicely at the moment. We’ve had some good training sessions building up to the game. We’ve got one more left but everyone so far is looking pretty sharp. Away from training everyone pretty much knew everyone else before this Origin series anyway so we all get on well. It’s been good.”
Q: This is Ricky Stuart’s second year in charge. Has he changed much around this year from last?
A: “No, it’s very similar to last year. He is a really good coach, Ricky, and he has definitely helped us enjoy camp and enjoy training. That’s a big thing too because it is a week-and-a-half of preparation for one game, you know? There are a lot of things that we fit into that week too, like promotions and training and other things. If you’re enjoying the training and the things away from footy – that’s a big part of preparation and Ricky does that well.”
Q: Who have you been rooming with?
A: “Luke Lewis. I roomed with him last year too and he’s a very good roomie! He is a bit of a clean freak actually, which is good. The place is spotless!
Q: Has anyone particularly impressed you with their training?
A: “I think Todd Carney has. As I said, he complements Mitch really well when they play together. He trains really hard – not only on the field but also when we’re in the gym. It’s great seeing halves in the gym working with the forwards, doing extras at 100 per cent.”
Q: Who is the biggest joker in the NSW side?
A: “I think Aku is the biggest joker. He’s a pretty funny guy. I don’t know… he is always smiling or laughing at something.”
Q: How do you take your mind off the game when you’ve got some down-time?
A: “A few of us went swimming this morning (Monday). We’ll probably have lunch this afternoon and maybe see a movie after that. We definitely try and keep ourselves busy and out of the room because we’re in camp for a whole week. Melbourne is a great city to get out and see – lots of great cafes and things.”
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