Payne Haas may become the least inexperienced NSW player and youngest forward in State of Origin history, if the teenage Broncos prop can play himself into the Blues side with a strong performance in Friday night’s match against Sydney Roosters.
NSW coach Brad Fittler has a long association with Haas and has been seeking feedback about the Brisbane star from Blues players, who have played against him in recent weeks, including Sea Eagles lock Jake Trbojevic.
Fittler believes Haas has the strength, stamina, and speed to be an Origin front rower at just 19 years-of-age.
Despite revealing on social media he had been fasting for Ramadan since May 5, Haas carried the ball 202 metres in a 61-minute stint during last Friday night’s 26-10 defeat of Manly and he has earned rave reviews in all five appearances this season.
After receiving a total of 36 minutes in three NRL appearances last year, Haas is averaging 66 minutes per match this season and has led the Brisbane forwards for run metres in each game - averaging carries of 162 metres and 36 tackles per match.
Broncos v Roosters - Round 10
With Jack de Belin yet to play this season, there is a spot in the NSW pack to be decided and Fittler says he will be keeping a close eye on Haas against Roosters middle forwards Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Siosiua Taukeiaho, Isaac Liu and Zane Tetevano.
"To get a bearing I'm trying to ask other players what it's like to play against him," Fittler said. "They say he's a handful. I spoke to Jake about it and he said, 'I didn't realise he’s such a handful'.
"This week he's got Hargreaves and Siua and Tetevano and Isaac Liu. What a challenge for him."
Fittler, who remains the youngest player chosen for NSW after debuting at 18 years and 118 days old in 1990, first saw Haas after he was selected in the Blues under 16s pathways squad in 2015 along with Campbell Graham, Zac Lomax, Josh Curran and Sebastian Kris.
Those who were involved marvelled at how 194cm Haas displayed the strength of forwards in NRL Under 20s teams, while he was the fastest among the entire squad in a series of short sprints.
At Brisbane off-season training, Haas beat his Broncos teammates in a 1.2km time trial.
Born in Newcastle but raised on the Gold Coast, Haas has nominated NSW as his preferred state and has twice represented the Blues at under 18s level, captaining the team in 2017.
His first NRL season was prematurely ended by a shoulder injury that required surgery after just three matches for the Broncos. He then missed the start of this season due to a four game-suspension for failing to co-operate with an NRL integrity unit investigation.
Fittler needs to see more from Cleary and Maloney
Most of the NSW forward pack for the upcoming series appears settled, with Trbojevic, Boyd Cordner, Tyson Frizell, David Klemmer, Paul Vaughan and Damien Cook expected to retain their spots in last year’s winning team.
Tariq Sims, Angus Crichton, Matt Prior, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and de Belin were the other forwards used by Fittler in the 2018 triumph.
Fullback James Tedesco, centre Latrell Mitchell and winger Josh Addo-Carr are near certainties but Fittler is undecided on his halves and right edge centre-wing pairing, with Tom Trbojevic injured and concerns about the form of James Roberts, Nathan Cleary, and James Maloney.
Fittler confirmed veteran Roosters utility Mitch Aubusson could come into contention as right centre or for a bench spot.
"I love Aubo, if I feel we need someone that can do a job and if there's a few injuries … I have no qualms. He's one of the greats," said Fittler, who was assistant coach at the Roosters when Aubusson made his NRL debut in 2007.