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'It is up to him now': Bennett challenges Hess to repay faith

Wayne Bennett says it is up Coen Hess to take his opportunity for the Maroons after backing the Cowboys giant to the hilt for his return to the State of Origin arena.

Bennett has named the 24-year-old to start in the back row in game one of the Ampol State of Origin series in Adelaide on Wednesday.

Hess has not played for the Maroons since 2018 and was below his best in the past two NRL seasons in a Cowboys side that also failed to fire.

He got a welcome surprise recently from Bennett when he was at his local butcher shop in Townsville.

Origin selection was not at the forefront of his mind and he had received calls from an unknown number earlier in the day. He decided to answer and Bennett was on the other end to tell him he was in the squad.

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The Queensland mentor said he had been “really impressed” with the attitude of Hess in camp.

"He knows the game and he is a smart footballer. I see a guy that is not underachieving," Bennett told

"Sometimes young men get a lot of accolades and success early and they can lose their way a little bit but sometimes you just need an opportunity when you are down. I have given him an opportunity so it is up to him now.

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"When he came on the scene he was a hell of a player but they all go through that period sometimes. They don’t lose their ability."

Bennett named a 21-man squad on Thursday which contains 12 players that have never played for the Maroons.

The squad will be reduced to 19 on Tuesday before Bennett announces his final 17 an hour before kick-off, but he said Hess would be taking the field.

"I am quite positive I will play him in the game," Bennett said.

Hess has Bennett’s number saved in his phone now, but it is what the master coach said that gave him the belief he could recapture the kind of form that initially got him selected in the Queensland side in 2017.

"I wasn’t playing the best footy as everyone would probably know, but when Wayne did call he said he was picking me because he had belief in me," Hess told

"For him to say that, with the kind of coach he is, it really stuck out for me. It gave me a lot of confidence in myself.

"I was extremely surprised when Wayne did call. I was excited and a bit nervous as well coming back into the squad.

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"When I came in [to the Maroons side] we had Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and those type of players so I was just coming in to do a role. Obviously we don’t have those legends in the squad anymore but we are young, exciting and exuberant.

"It is a different kind of squad but that is what makes it even more exciting."

Hess. who can play on an edge or in the middle, missed the final five rounds for the Cowboys with a knee injury but is now ready to fire.

"That is what the 27-man squad is for. If your time does come you have to be ready to go and make sure you are doing your state proud," he said.

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