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Justin O'Neill celebrates a Cowboys try in Round 20 against the Bulldogs.

When confirmation came through that the international eligibility criteria had been altered to allow Origin players to play for developing nations, the Vanuatu Rugby League thought they had their first high-profile player.

Cowboys centre Justin O'Neill ran the water for the Vanuatu team that his brother Paul was playing for in 2013 in Mackay and VRL officials have been waiting anxiously for the day that Justin could join him in the national team.

The Vanuatu national team will play the Solomon Islands in Port Vila on October 15 but O'Neill is again unavailable after being selected in the Kangaroos' 24-man squad to play New Zealand in Perth and the Four Nations tournament in England.

O'Neill's mother Nicole represented Vanuatu in the 100 and 200 metres at the South Pacific Games and the 25-year-old said that he was notified by the VRL when the international eligibility rules changed recently.

"I had an e-mail from the Vanuatu Rugby League and they informed me that was the rule that had changed which is great," O'Neill told

"There are a few players there that have always wanted to play for their country.

"I know Vanuatu are only just starting out and they're having some trial games to try and get better and build rugby league and it's good to be amongst that and part of that building stage.

"The rules help because it means I can still play State of Origin which has definitely been a goal and something I've always wanted to do in my footy career."

One of seven debutants named in Mal Meninga's touring party, O'Neill has enjoyed a remarkable career resurrection since joining the Cowboys prior to the 2015 season.

Languishing in reserve grade at the Storm in 2014, O'Neill now boasts a premiership, three Origin appearances for Queensland this season and selection for Australia, not to mention marrying wife Chantelle and the birth of their first daughter only a week ago.

As well as a fresh start back home in Townsville where he played much of his junior footy, O'Neill says a growing ability to calm his nerves before a game has enabled him to stake a claim as one of the game's premier centres.

He endured a horror start to life as a Cowboy when he spilled bomb after bomb in his first game against the Roosters in Round 1 last year but is now comfortable turning to teammates such as Kyle Feldt when he feels the nerves taking hold.

"I pretty much just sort of put it out there. Before the [2015] Grand Final, just rooming with 'Feldty', before we left I said, 'I'm pretty nervous aye', and I think he said he was as well, and I said, 'It's good to be nervous'," O'Neill recalled.

"It's something I have to train myself to do, to sort of calm myself before games and clear my mind.

"I guess it's a feeling you get before big games. If you're not nervous there's something wrong. Usually just go back to what I know, calm myself and prepare as if it's another game.

"If I know someone else is feeling the same I'm sort of like, 'Well I'm not the only one', whereas if I stay in my head and think 'I'm nervous, I need to calm down, I'm the only one. Everyone else looks relaxed,' it's definitely not the case.

"In junior footy it was just a game and you played for fun. Most of the times when I can get my mind back to that and just think of the NRL as just a game.

"It's the same game I played when I was in junior footy, same-sized field, so when I can relate back to that, I clear my mind."



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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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