Blues contender James out to match Burgess trio
Gold Coast skipper Ryan James has spoken for the first time about being "devastated" by being in, then out, of the NSW team on selection night 11 days ago.
The Titans prop has vowed to put it behind him and address the areas of the game that can make him a State of Origin player.
He said Blues coach Brad Fittler had given him a recipe to follow to keep him well in Origin reckoning and Gold Coast coach Garth Brennan said there was no bigger challenge for James to stamp his authority in the manner Fittler wants from him than against the Burgess brothers-led Rabbitohs on Friday night at Cbus Super Stadium.
Queensland middle men Jarrod Wallace and Jai Arrow look certain to back up 48 hours after the Maroons' Origin I loss and, with James, have the mission of leading the Titans pack against a South Sydney side searching for its sixth consecutive victory and fifth straight at Robina since the Titans' last victory against them there in 2009.
"I was devastated at the time but it was reassuring to get the phone call from Freddy (Fittler) and be told what I needed to do," said James of his selection reversal, while confirming the fiasco was as it had been portrayed in the media. He was told he was in the squad and was preparing to fly to Sydney before soon after being advised there had been a chance of mind.
"I can't dwell on it. There are a lot of worst things that can happen in the world, and I sort of took it as that. I have to go out and play good for us.
"Freddy called and told me a couple of things I needed to work on. I was obviously disappointed in what happened, but in the next two weeks I need to go out and prove a point."
The areas Fittler wanted him to improve on were "being a little more aggressive, better line speed and make sure you're winning your runs and winning the play the ball – everything an Origin player requires".
Brennan also painted a positive spin on James's heartbreak.
"The call from Freddy gave him the excitement and the realisation he's not far away from an Origin berth," said Brennan.
"There's no bigger challenge than stamping your authority against the Burgess boys and this is a chance [for James] to show Freddy that, if there is an injury between now and Origin II, he is there and ready to go and that he hasn't dropped his bottom lip or is sulking."
Brennan said he expected Wallace and Arrow, who had limited game time at the MCG last night, to be fired up against a Rabbitohs outfit he described as the form team in the NRL.
"Everyone is saying they are the form side of the competition and they probably are; they've won five in a row and there's no bigger challenge than the Burgess boys, and some of the other boys in the pack like Sutton and Crichton; they are a red-hot football team," he said.
"Players like to challenge themselves against the best and at the moment everyone is saying Souths are the best and it's an opportunity for our pack to go out there and stand up."
For James the match will be a reunion with Souths danger man Cody Walker, with whom James played much of his school, junior and under-20s football on the Gold Coast.
In 2008 they played together in Palm Beach Currumbin's national schoolboys final victory against a Matraville High School side that included Adam Reynolds. While James made his NRL debut at 18, it was almost six years later before Walker debuted, with Souths after several seasons in the Queensland Intrust Super Cup.
"I was surprised it took Cody that long to make it in the NRL," said James.
"It's always good to see a mate kick on in the NRL and I could not be prouder of him.
"He's an instinctive player and he seems to pop up round the ball and is always there.
"He is one of those players who knows football and the football seems to fall into his hands and he's, and Adam Reynolds, are big threats to us behind their big pack."