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Justin O'Neill is more relaxed at training this week after playing an important role on his Origin debut.

Queensland centre Justin O'Neill has taken time ahead of State of Origin III to reflect on his rapid rise to Maroons stardom.  

O'Neill was the water boy for the Vanuatu rugby league team just under three years ago, running the drinks in front of a crowd of just over 1,000 people in Mackay.  

That was a historic night for Vanuatu rugby league, with the side winning its first international match just two years after being founded. 

The 48-30 win over the Solomon Islands created history for the people of Vanuatu and it was at that moment that O'Neill realised he wanted to create his own.  

The 25-year-old says he really enjoyed his taste of international football, with it making him appreciate his family connections to the country.  

"I haven't played for Vanuatu yet. I've been to watch a couple of their games and I ran the water when they played the Solomon Islands in Mackay back in 2013," O'Neill said.  

"I was playing NRL at that time and we had a bit of a holiday break so I went back to Townsville on my break.  

"Vanuatu Rugby League approached me and said they had a game in Mackay and I wasn't sure if I could actually play, but I knew I had to go up there and join the team and get amongst it.  

"It was really good fun running the water and being around the boys.  

"Mum's from Vanuatu and I've been back there a couple of times to see my family." 

O'Neill is now the proud owner of Queensland's right centre position after a faultless first Origin series in Maroon.  

It's been a whirlwind couple of months for the Cowboys back, and O'Neill has a chance to create more history come Wednesday night when the Maroons aim for a 3-0 whitewash of New South Wales in Game Three at ANZ Stadium.  

He said he couldn't believe how far he'd come in the last couple of years, with the Warwick born Queenslander now a two-time premiership winner after earning a second premiership ring with the Cowboys in 2015.  

"It's crazy to think how far I've come," he said.   

"I need to pinch myself at times because of how much it's all changed.  

"Sometimes I take time to look back on what's happened over the last couple of years and just take it all in." 


O'Neill's involvement in North Queensland's 2015 premiership charge was quite a remarkable feat considering how poorly he started at his new club.  

Moving from the Melbourne Storm at the end of the 2014 season, O'Neill had an error-riddled start to his Cowboys career in 2015 and that resulted in the versatile back being dropped after just three rounds. 

But to his credit he returned in Round 6 of that season and a move to the centres eventually followed.  

O'Neill has found a funny way to answer questions about his horrible start in North Queensland: "People ask me how I overcame my high ball situation in North Queensland and I just tell them I moved to the centres."

Whether it is in the centres or on the wing, O'Neill one day hopes to run out for the Vanuatu rugby league team as a player.  

Vanuatu Rugby League are currently in the process of confirming a match against the Solomon Islands that would be played in Port Vila, most likely in October. 

Due to the economic impact of Cyclone Pam last year the Vanuatu Rugby League were unable to host a match for the national team in 2015.  

Vanuatu businesses are still doing it tough but organisers still remain confident that the game will go ahead. 

Justin's brother Paul O'Neill has represented Vanuatu in the past - scoring a try on debut - and it would be a dream come true for Justin to one day play on the international stage with both Paul and younger brother Samsen. 

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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