Wright path to Origin ambition
He has missed out on Queensland teams all the way through the junior ranks but Titans back-rower Shane Wright takes his first steps towards a Maroons jersey when he joins 25 talented teens at the Queensland Academy of Sport under-20s Emerging Origin camp in Brisbane this weekend.
Some of the brightest under-age talent in the country congregate on Friday for a three-day camp headed by Queensland under-20s coach Kurt Wrigley with one eye on the under-20s Origin match in July and another on the future of the Maroons' senior side.
Five players who appeared for Queensland in last year's loss to the Blues will be present but for Wright it represents eagerly anticipated recognition of his development as a footballer.
Having had his debut NYC season cruelled by a broken and dislocated ankle suffered in a trial game in 2014, Wright has joined Gold Coast's NRL squad for pre-season after strong showings in 2015.
Almost always found in the front of the pack in gruelling fitness drills, Wright's main goal for the 2016 season is to play for the Queensland under-20s and said he is thrilled to have taken an important step towards reaching that goal.
"It would be a dream come true," Wright said of pulling on the Maroons jersey. "It's one thing I've always wanted to do, represent Queensland and hopefully this is the year to do it.
"I was in a QAS camp when they had the 14s and 15s one but I've never actually cracked a Queensland team before.
"It's a pretty good feeling to be getting noticed and picked in that and hopefully can carry on and eventually get picked in that 20s Origin team this year."
Born in Perth before moving to Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays at the age of seven, Wright was signed by Manly as a 14-year-old before finishing his schooling at Palm Beach Currumbin on the Gold Coast.
After finishing high school he was signed to a three-year deal with the Titans and just as he looked like making an instant impact, the start of his career stalled due to injury.
"First run in an under-20s trial against the Broncos I tipped on to one of the forwards and got hit kind of late and then bang, broken ankle, dislocation, out for the year," said the 19-year-old.
"It was pretty heartbreaking. I'd worked my arse off over that pre-season as a young bloke and I got the opportunity to start that trial so it was pretty heartbreaking.
"I remember saying to Mum at hospital, 'Why has this happened to me?'
"The year before I missed the state titles too with a broken thumb but got over it.
"When I missed that year of footy, I'd never missed a year of sport and just coming back to get through the whole year without an injury [in 2015] was a pretty good feeling.
"Then to come back and do pre-season with the big boys, good to be back."
Queensland under-20s coach Kurt Wrigley – an assistant coach at South Sydney – knows little of Wright as a player or a person but will use the next three days to form his own impression of what he has to offer the team.
"I don't know a lot about Shane. He's one on the list that I've got the highlighter on to find out a little bit more about him," Wrigley told NRL.com.
"With my work in the NRL I only get to see these kids when I'm floating around different clubs at the 20s and just looking at a lot of video.
"I like to start off with a clean sheet with a lot of them. Sometimes you get a little bit of information about other people from second hand sources and it's not always right so I like to give them the fresh slate and get first impressions straight up.
"When they get to that age group, from 18 to 20, some decide they want to be an NRL player and they put everything into that basket and train the house down.
"He's obviously been rewarded through some of his efforts, recognised and rewarded so it will be good to see how he goes at the camp."
While a good portion of the camp will be spent trying to arrest the dominance New South Wales have enjoyed in the under-20s Origin fixtures over the past four years, Wrigley said it is also an important first step in familiarising the future Maroons with what is expected as a Queensland representative.
"Preparing them for the game is first and foremost but also immersing them in that Origin culture. Seeing how they react in certain situations and also how they come together as a group," Wrigley said.
"We had Mal in last year to come to speak to the boys about the values of that squad and what they hold dear.
"These games usually aren't won on skill, particularly from Queensland teams. It's usually on that toughness and never giving in so they're the sort of qualities we want to get out of these guys and hopefully they take to that next level as well."