De Belin's rise from choirboy to Blues enforcer
A decade after first experiencing State of Origin as a choirboy, Jack de Belin will finally take centre stage as the Blues' newest engine room enforcer.
De Belin's maiden encounter with the interstate arena came as a teenager while attending famed rugby league nursery St Gregory's at Campbelltown – where NSW teammate James Tedesco also cut his teeth along with a five-star Origin alumni that includes Trent Barrett, Ryan Hoffman, Jason Taylor and Eric Grothe jnr.
But while schoolmates Alex McKinnon, Matt Groat and Jack Stockwell were all being welcomed into the NSW fold in an under 16s curtain-raiser, de Belin was wearing maroon and hitting the high notes as part of the pre-game entertainment before Origin I, 2008.
"I was at St Gregs Campbelltown, I was a boarder there and sung in the choir," de Belin grins when asked about his first Origin game as a spectator.
"We sung the national anthem and 'you raise me up', I was in there.
"I'm a year older than [McKinnon and co] so I was 17, they were 16. I didn't make any rep teams when I was at Gregs. I went in there with a couple of mates and you just had to sing.
"We had pretty decent seats, they weren't bad. I remember both [the singing and the game]. I remember Anthony Quinn scored a try that game."
Quinn actually scored a double on debut as the Blues bagged a surprise 18-10 victory in Craig Bellamy's first game as coach, but Queensland still made off with the series as they have done in all bar one of the past 12 seasons.
For much of that period de Belin has been toiling away as one of the more under-rated customers in the Telstra Premiership.
As recruitment boss of Canterbury 10 years ago, Peter Mulholland had the tip that this kid from Cootamundra was the toughest of a talented troop coming off the St Gregorys production line.
But a broken leg during his final year of school meant he missed the NRL cut, returned to Cootamundra and played bush footy until McKinnon had a word to then-Dragons assistant coach Steve Price.
He's come a long way from anonymously running around without a contract at Red V training that first summer in Wollongong to being watched from every angle by the massive media contingent at the NSW camp on Tuesday.
The 27-year-old moved without any obvious discomfort from the "irritating" hip injury that has required pain-killing injections in recent weeks to keep him on the paddock.
De Belin is the oldest of 11 Blues rookies and trumped only by 31-year-old veteran James Maloney across the entire team in terms of age.
He was in the NSW camp last year in Laurie Daley's extended squads and was 18th man for the decider at Suncorp Stadium.
With the Dragons riding high at the top of the ladder and de Belin in impressive form, he admits fearing that if the chance to trade his old maroon school blazer for the sky blue didn't come this year, then that long-ago choir performance may have been as close as he would get.
"I kind of had the assumption this was my year," de Belin said.
"If I didn’t make it this year I was never going to make it. Not that that’s [entirely] correct, but I’ve been on the verge for a couple of years and my name has been tossed up and have been in camp as 18th man.
"Anyone knows that has ever played with me or trained with me knows that I’m definitely suited to [Origin]. It was just about letting the selectors see that. This year I’ve stepped it up a little bit and certain aspects of my game are suited for Origin being such a physical game."
Witness Australia's greatest sporting rivalry when Origin comes to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday, June 6. Bronze tickets available from $49 here.