Test debutants treasure green and gold
Many will tell you that State of Origin has become the pinnacle of our sport but three Origin representatives on the verge of their Test debuts have spoken of the honour that a Test call-up means to them and their family.
Will Chambers, Josh Dugan and Trent Merrin (pictured in the joint Kangaroos-Jillaroos team photo) have each experienced the cauldron that the intense interstate rivalry brings out in the game's elite players but along with South Sydney winger Alex Johnston will get a first taste of what Test football is all about on Friday night against the Kiwis at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
With 10 appearances for New South Wales, three Country origin jerseys and 119 NRL games for the Dragons, Merrin is the most accomplished of the Test debutants and said the opportunity to represent your country remains the game's highest honour.
"It's the pinnacle. As a kid you always watch and idolise the players in the green and gold and that's where you want to aspire to be," Merrin said. "To be able to have that crack at it is something you cherish and don't want to let go.
"Not just `in our line of sport but all over the world, watching the green and gold is something that you idolise as a kid and to be able to play for your country is the pinnacle of rugby league.
"It's the pinnacle of my career and a goal I've been trying to reach for so long."
After making his debut for Queensland last year Chambers was somewhat unlucky to miss out on selection in the Kangaroos squad for the Four Nations tournament but has earned selection in the centres ahead of Justin Hodges as reward for his strong start to the season with the Storm.
Now in his seventh season in the NRL, he too has had to serve a lengthy apprenticeship but said it was an honour to finally achieve a lifelong dream.
"Playing for your country is a childhood dream. You watch rugby league and what you always want to do is put on the green and gold and when my name got called out on Sunday, that's something that I'll always remember," said the 26-year-old.
"It means a lot to everyone. Mum, Dad and my younger brother, it means the world to all of them and my fiance, it means the world to her as well because it's been tough you know.
"With footy you always get your hopes up and you always want to play for Australia but at the end of the day it's out of my hands. I just knew coming into this year I just had to play consistent footy and if I got the call-up then so be it.
"I don't ever get my hopes up about playing for Australia. There are that many great players going around at the moment, I'm honoured to be here.
"Everyone loves to play for Australia and wants to play for Australia but you never get your hopes up because there are that many good footballers getting around."
As he revelled in wearing the green and gold training kit at Monday's media session, Dugan reflected on the sacrifices his family made to give him the best possible chance of fulfilling his potential and revealed that they will be in Brisbane on Friday to see him play for Australia for the first time.
"My mum, dad and my sister are proud as punch at the moment and they've been a big part of me getting to where I am," said Dugan, who will play on the wing against the Kiwis.
"I remember as a kid making the national squad for ACT and mum and dad both working two jobs just so I could get up and play in the Northern Territory.
"Without that support and backbone from them I wouldn't be where I am and I have them to thank for where I am.
"As a kid you watch the games on TV and you dream of playing in the green and gold. I was no different growing up and I wanted to play Origin but I also wanted to play for my country.
"To play for your country is something very special and I can't wait to go out on Friday night."
The rise has been somewhat more rapid for Johnston who in the space of 12 months has made his NRL debut, won a premiership, topped the try-scoring list and been selected to play for his country.
News of the 20-year-old's Test selection helped to brighten a downcast South Sydney dressing room in Cairns on Sunday and he admitted that he was still coming to terms with the fact that he will be representing Australia on Friday night.
"I'm excited and a bit nervous, it's a dream come true," said Johnston.
"I gained a lot of confidence after last year but to make it here and to play for Australia is something I've always dreamed of. Didn't really expect it but just stoked to be here.
"It's going to be a whole other level of game that I haven't played before and I'm ready to give it my best shot and play some good footy."