Improved de Belin ready to grab chance
Dragons lock and Blues squad member Jack de Belin has wanted a shot at Origin for a long time and now he's close enough to taste it he's determined to take whatever opportunities are given to him and not let go.
There's a frankness and an honesty about de Belin that is hard not to be impressed by.
In an era where possible future rep stars are reluctant to put pressure on themselves and almost unanimously declare they're not thinking about Origin and just focusing on club footy, de Belin has argued for several seasons now that he feels his game is suited to the Origin arena.
There can certainly be no doubt in Blues coach Laurie Daley's mind that de Belin wants it. That he'll do whatever he can to get there.
This year, for the first time, with his club form the best it's ever been and his tackle-busts and offloads skyrocketing without diminishing his rugged, relentless defence, the 26-year-old has finally been called on to join the extended squad.
The position in the reserves is hardly lip service; de Belin did every training session with the team in Game One, stayed through the game on Wednesday night and would have made his debut had a forward been injured in the warm-up.
Last year it was Jake Trbojevic, the year before that Tyson Frizell. In 2014 it was Josh Jackson. Each of those players has debuted the following year and been selected for every game since.
Speaking to NRL.com as he headed into camp for Game Two, de Belin was determined to take everything he could from the Origin experience as he targets a debut.
"It was an unreal experience being in camp. Knowing you're very close to being able to don a sky blue jersey is a pretty proud moment," de Belin said.
"I took a lot out of that camp, just seeing how professional all the boys are and how close we became as a unit there. There was a lot of new faces, myself included. The bonding and the way the boys got on, it was like I'd known them for years. They welcomed me with open arms."
De Belin was hardly a late bloomer; the Dally M under-20s player of the year in 2011 has been a standout in his six NRL seasons to date but feels like his career is only now truly blossoming.
 Telstra Premiership: Jack de Belin
Offloads, All Run Metres, Tackle Breaks, Tackles.
In 2016 he had 30 tackle busts and 15 offloads all year to go with his 43 tackles and 117 metres per week in an average of 68 minutes. The numbers were roughly similar in 2015 but with lower minutes reflected by lower average tackles. Back in 2014 he was only getting 40 minutes per week and the offloads were non-existent.
But after just 14 games played in 2017 de Belin already has more busts (44) and offloads (30) than in any previous season while his 127 metres per game is also a career high. De Belin says it's a case of finding his place in the game while also working on becoming stronger than he's ever been before.
"In regards to myself and my career it's probably starting to finally hit its stride. It's probably taken me a little bit longer than I would have hoped but as a forward it does take a little bit longer to find your place in the game. I just turned 26 so hopefully I'm coming into my prime now," de Belin said.
"I think I've already passed my tackle breaks and offloads for the past couple of years and it's only halfway through the season.
"It comes from a bit of confidence and the way the team's playing at the moment. It definitely helps playing with the forward pack we've got. We had a big pre-season, I ripped into the gym, got a little bit stronger and that helps as well.
"I've always been pretty agile and can move fairly well for a middle so it helps being able to have a little bit of late footwork and I like to use my off-hand a lot to spin and fend so that helps to break those tackles as well."
De Belin certainly sounds like someone who knows his game inside-out and it shows on the field. His club coach Paul McGregor obviously believes too and was prepared for de Belin to stay with the Blues right through to Wednesday of Game One despite the Dragons preparing to play just three days later.
"'Mary' has been unreal in that sense," De Belin said.
"He's been in these camps before. He used to be an assistant [NSW coach under Laurie Daley], he knows what it's about. He'll know that I'm going to take a lot from it and with club footy now I've been there for that long I know what I need to do to prepare for a game, I know all the plays so missing a session here or there isn't going to hurt.
"Having said that I've seen players in the same position as me getting a lot of grief from their coaches and going back and forwards trying to get them to training and it was a bit of an ongoing dilemma but Mary was fully understanding and let me stay the whole week which was a big thanks to him."
Like McGregor, de Belin reckons it's a case of "the more the better" when it comes to having representative players at your club.
"You come back with some more confidence, you can filter it down to the other boys as well and show them, especially with the younger fellas, aspiring for a higher goal and showing them what being a professional is all about," he said.