Why Titans enforcer James turned his back on Maroons
Ryan James was sitting in a hotel room in Sydney last Friday night when Reagan Campbell-Gillard broke his jaw playing for the Panthers.
Sitting next to him was Queensland bench forward and Titans teammate, Jai Arrow.
"We both looked at each other when it happened and we were like, 'got to play good tomorrow now'," James said.
The next day at Belmore Oval against the Bulldogs he went out and more than held his own against incumbent Australian props Aaron Woods and David Klemmer, doing enough to earn a call-up after being agonisingly left out in game one.
It's been a roller-coaster of emotions for James over the past three weeks. He was told he was part of the NSW squad for game one, only to be ruled out before he was due to fly down and join the rest of the team.
Having grown up on the NSW and Queensland border, in the small town of Bilambil on the NSW north coast, he understands the rivalry. But he also had the option of playing for Queensland.
"When I signed my first NRL contract with the Titans, there was a question there and I was just like NSW," he recalled.
"Our physio at the time was the Queensland physio. We had Nate Myles there as well. A couple of them try to get you in there but one of my great mates is Greg Bird. Just watching him play and the dominance they had when I was growing up, it has always been a dream.
"When Ryan Girdler scored all those tries and took all those intercepts, I got a Girdler NSW jersey still at mum's house. It would be good to have a James one next to that some day."
James has represented Queensland as a junior. He's also represented NSW. While Luke Keary wanted to represent Queensland growing up, there’s no question where James' allegiance lies.
"I played Queensland 18s and schoolboys for two years," James said.
"One year I got chosen for the under 18s NSW and 18s Queensland. I grew up supporting the Blues but through being with the Titans and going to PBC (Palm Beach Currumbin State High), I had to chuck on the [Queensland] jersey.
"You just know when something doesn't feel right. I had the opportunity to sign with either because it was up in the air. The way dad raised me, I supported NSW. So that is what it was."
James is no guarantee to play in Origin one. Blues coach Brad Fittler still has to decide between James and Cronulla's Matt Prior, two players who crossed paths in the NSW system almost a decade ago.
"We were in an emerging Origin camp a long time ago," James said.
"That was maybe eight-plus years ago now."
Don't miss Game II of Origin at ANZ Stadium on Sunday 24 June. Get your tickets here