Resilient Tedesco set to live out dream
While most people were eating dinner on Sunday night, James Tedesco was staring at his phone as the name 'Laurie Daley' flashed on the screen.
Months of speculation about whether he'd make his State of Origin debut rested on what the man at the other end of the line had to say.
Before he answered the call from the NSW Blues coach, Tedesco was the Wests Tigers fullback. One minute later, he was officially an Origin player.
Tedesco has been one of the hottest talents in the NRL in 2016 with 11 tries and just as many assists, and according to most it was simply a matter of when, not if, he would make his Holden State of Origin debut.
He looked certain to be picked for Game One but his hopes were shattered when he fractured his shoulder blade playing for the Tigers in Round 9.
It wasn't the first time the 23-year-old had been cruelled by injury after he tore his ACL on debut in Round 1, 2012 at Leichhardt Oval, and then fractured his patella two years later from the opening kick-off against the Canberra Raiders.
Instead of beating himself about what could have been, Tedesco fought on, seemingly coming back a better footballer after each injury.
It's that 'never give up' attitude that made Sunday night's phone call extra special.
"Through the injuries and what I've gone through to get here, it's going to be a proud moment," Tedesco said after being named to make his debut.
"I'm looking forward to soaking it up and enjoying every minute of it.
"Obviously it was disappointing – the timing of it [the injury]. I'm used to getting those injuries at the start of my career and having another one at that time was very disappointing.
"I was happy to be patient and know that if I could get back to playing some good footy that an opportunity could come.
"I was pretty happy with my form over the last few games. I thought I did everything I could to get a chance and to get that call [from Daley] is a pretty hard feeling to explain.
"It was definitely a goal coming into this year [to play Origin]. Last year I played my first full season of NRL and I came into this year confident in my ability.
"I didn’t really expect for Game Two to be considered. I knew if I could get a few good games under the belt that I might be a chance for Game Three. I wasn't quite sure how Laurie would go, but to get the nod at fullback, I'm over the moon."
While playing high quality rugby league for his club was never an issue, Tedesco said one of the most important things this season was trying to ignore the 'will he or won't he' hype surrounding his possible Origin selection.
"I think I've tried not to focus on it too much," he said.
"I think I've done pretty well in that context not trying to read too much into it or think about it too much.
"A lot of people obviously asked me about it, but I've just been putting my focus into playing good footy for the Tigers and I think I've done that well over the last few weeks."
Now that he's made it, he just wants to enjoy life as a NSW player and the opportunity to run out with Tigers teammates Aaron Woods and Robbie Farah.
"I don't want to think about it [the week ahead] too much or put too much pressure on myself. I just want to relax and enjoy everything that goes on around camp," he said.
"I've got guys like 'Woodsy' and Farah to keep me calm and focused. I'm just looking to relax and not put too much energy into it until game day.
"Woodsy is only a young guy but it feels like he's been around forever. They've kept me calm throughout this process and I can't thank them enough for that."
For Farah, seeing his younger teammate get picked to make his Origin debut is the culmination of years of hard work.
The Blues dummy-half was there when Tedesco had his NRL debut cut short and has seen him transform over the years into one of the game's most dynamic attacking weapons.
"I've seen him develop as a young kid from his first grade debut at the Tigers to the sort of form he's producing now," Farah said.
"[It was] unfortunate timing with his injury earlier on in the year, otherwise I'm sure he would have been knocking on the door for selection for Game One.
"He's here for a reason. The way he's been playing for the past 18 months, they could not not pick him. He's just got to continue to do what he's doing at the Tigers. I'm sure if he does that then he'll look like he belongs in Origin.
"He gets his chance now, and it'll be a great honour to be out there for his debut, and I'm sure it'll be the first of many. It'll be a great occasion for him and one he thoroughly deserves."
Blues skipper Paul Gallen acknowledged the contribution of Matt Moylan in the No.1 jersey for the first two games of the series, but conceded Tedesco's current form made it impossible for him to not be picked for Origin III.
"'Teddy' – had he not been injured – probably would have been here for Game One." Gallen said.
"It'd be tough on poor Matty Moylan. He played really well when he was here and I'm sure he'll play plenty more Origins in the future.
"When you talk about guys who deserve to get picked and are knocking on the door that hard that you can't leave them out, that's him."