Naughty boys earn back captain's trust
They committed no sins – they were simply very naughty boys – but six players banned from representing Queensland for 12 months have earned back the trust of their captain and coach ahead of the biggest game of their lives on Wednesday night.
Last February Kevin Walters made an emphatic statement three months before preparing his first Queensland team by making eight players who broke curfew during an Emerging Origin camp in Brisbane unavailable for selection for a period of 12 months.
With the 2017 Holden State of Origin Series to go on the line at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday, six of those potential Maroons – Dylan Napa, Valentine Holmes, Jarrod Wallace, Ben Hunt, Cameron Munster and Anthon Milford – have graduated into the senior team and now have the hopes of a state resting on their shoulders and the respect of a jersey to uphold.
When they ignored Walters' instructions and left the hotel in which they were staying last February they disrespected what it meant to play for Queensland but Maroons skipper Cameron Smith says the indiscretions of the past have now been forgiven.
"Absolutely," Smith said when asked whether they had earned his trust. "That night they made a bad judgement call but they certainly paid their dues by not being available for selection for 12 months.
"It wasn't like they were breaking any serious laws but if you want to be part of the Queensland Origin side you need to show respect to the jersey, you need to show respect to the coach and his wishes and those guys broke that trust that night.
"They paid dearly for it because I reckon a handful of those guys would have had an opportunity to play last year.
"They were very close. Cameron Munster being one of them, Dylan Napa as well, but they've certainly come into camp and displayed great behaviour, great qualities of what we expect in this side.
"They've trained well, they've prepared well, Dylan Napa I thought was fantastic in Game Two and he's shown that he cares about the Maroons jersey and he cares about the guys that have been a part of this side for a long time now."
Thrust into the famous No.6 jersey in his Origin debut with the series on the line, few will have begun their Origin careers under the same pressure as Munster and the 22-year-old believes he is a more mature person and player for his indiscretion of a year ago.
"It's probably a blessing in disguise for us when we did what we did last year," Munster said.
"I know it wasn't ideal but it kind of shaped me into the player that I am now and made me realise how fortunate we are to be able to do something we love and not take it for granted.
"I'm not taking it for granted anymore and I've pulled my head in a lot more than last year.
"It doesn't matter who you are if you don't respect that jersey you're not going to probably play.
"I've really respected his decision on that last year and at the moment it's past and me and 'Val' (Holmes) have moved on and really excited and really proud of each other's efforts at the moment."
The Maroons have blooded eight rookies into the Origin arena this series and will deliver what Smith describes as potentially "the most satisfying" series win in his illustrious career should they triumph on Wednesday night.
When the game gets tough and Smith looks for support the familiar faces of Johnathan Thurston, Darius Boyd, Greg Inglis and Matt Scott won't be there, replaced by a nucleus of newcomers whom have the future of the Maroons in their hands.
With the potential for it to be the final Origin appearance for Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk also, the transformation of the team that dominated Origin for a decade is well and truly underway but Smith remains focused on extending Queensland's streak of winning Game Three deciders to seven.
"It'd be the most satisfying, I reckon, no doubt about that given the injuries we've had and the personnel that are unavailable," Smith said.
"Inglis, Scott, Darius for this game, 'JT' for two of the games, there's a lot of guys there with a lot of talent and a lot of experience at this level.
"So it'd be pretty satisfying but we're not at all getting ahead of ourselves and thinking about how good it would be to win the series. We know there's a lot of hard work in front of us to be at that point at the 80th minute to be ahead on the scoreboard.
"Our focus is purely on our last session [on Tuesday] and then making sure that we deliver an 80-minute performance because we haven't done that thus far this series.
"I think we owe that to our fans and everyone in Queensland."