Jarryd Hayne could be the player to nail the big moments for NSW in the 2017 Origin series, according to Blues coach Laurie Daley.
He's only two games into his NRL comeback and Origin I, 2017 is nine months away but Hayne's two games for the Titans have caught Daley's eye – including a match-winning field goal eight seconds from full time against Wests Tigers at Campbelltown last Saturday.
Speaking at a ceremony for the new NSW Centre of Excellence at Sydney Olympic Park, Daley said the team probably just lacked a Hayne-style player to grab the big moments in a 2016 series that was decided by a tiny number of big moments.
So close were the contests, either team could have swept the series 3-0 but it was again Queensland's experienced match-winners who claimed their opportunities but they may not be the case in 2017, Daley said.
"I have been [encouraged by Hayne's form]," Daley said.
"And he's still going to get a lot better than what he's doing at the moment. But to have two years out of the game, not have much training, to come back and play 80 minutes like he did last week in game two and nail it right at the end, that's what great players do.
"In Origin, they just nail them."
That's what was missing for the Blues in 2016 as the team was left to rue a small number of possible match-winning chances in both of the opening two games that cost them the series.
"The series could've gone either way. Queensland could've gone 3-0, and NSW [too]. And that's the difference at the moment in the two teams," Daley said.
"Queensland have been able to nail it when it matters most… If Jarryd can get back to anywhere near his best, he'll be that player for us. When the moment rolls around, I'm sure he'll be able to deliver. And that's exciting for everyone."
While the breakout game from Tigers fullback James Tedesco means Hayne would have a huge battle to walk back into the team in his preferred position, the former Eel's versatility means it will be easy for Daley to find a spot for him.
"That's the advantage of him. It wouldn't worry you where you picked him. If he's playing well, you'll find a position for him. Whether that's fullback, centre, wing, five-eighth, you've just got to have him in there somewhere."
Senior Blues forward Aaron Woods was on the wrong end of that Hayne special last Saturday but was nevertheless pumped to have the 2014 Brad Fittler medallist back in the NRL.
"I wish he was back next year because he beat us on the weekend but it's good to see Haynesy back," Woods laughed.
"I think you've got to have Hayne and Tedesco in there, they're both game breakers and they're blokes that can do anything with the ball.
"If you're down by two points or one point you're looking for the likes of Hayne and Tedesco, so to have two of them on the field would be massive but at the end of the day I'm not the coach and thank God I'm not. Laurie, that's his tough decision, he's got to pick."
Woods admitted it was bittersweet seeing Hayne excel so early in his NRL comeback after almost two years out challenging himself in the NFL and Rugby Sevens.
"It was a clutch moment. Jarryd gets the big bucks but he does the big plays as well which he deserves it. I wasn't happy about the moment but as a fan of rugby league I was so happy to see Jarryd back.
"Look what he did up at Gold Coast the week before [drawing a huge crowd]. I haven't seen a packed house at Gold Coast since I don't remember when.
"To see how many people are following the game and to hear the jersey sales they've had from it, it's amazing what a player like that does and once the players start to realise what Jarryd does on the field and how to play with him, they're going to be a really good side the Gold Coast."