Payne Haas is looking forward to running out in a NSW jersey at Accor Stadium for next Wednesday night’s opening State of Origin and not just because of the hostile reception he received last weekend from Broncos fans at Suncorp Stadium.
The Blues have played in Sydney on just three occasions in the 12 Origins since Brad Fittler took over as coach in 2018 and the last of those – in 2020 - was played in front of a crowd limited to just 50 per cent of Accor Stadium’s 80,000 capacity due to COVID restrictions.
Last year the Blues were forced to play all three matches of the series in Queensland, where they have played on six occasions in the past four seasons, along with trips to Melbourne (2018), Perth (2019) and Adelaide (2020).
Match: Blues v Maroons
Game 1 -
Venue: Accor Stadium, Sydney
“Obviously we haven’t played in Sydney for a while and it sucked that we couldn’t play in Newcastle last year either,” said Haas, who has now withdrawn his request for a release from the Broncos and will put contract negotiations on hold until the end of the season.
“We had to play all three games in Queensland last year so it is going to be pretty cool to get a game in Sydney with 80,000 people again.
"I can’t wait to do that walk down the tunnel and run out on the field in front of all the Blues supporters. I want to do them proud.”
Since NSW last played at home before a capacity crowd in the 2019 decider at Accor Stadium, the state has been ravaged by bushfires, floods, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and had a change of premier, with Dominic Perottet replacing Gladys Berejiklian.
The Blues have also replaced their leader, with James Tedesco taking over after the captaincy after Boyd Cordner was forced to retire – and the superstar fullback is one of just four survivors from the team which retained the shield, along with Jack Wighton, Damien Cook and Cameron Murray.
Josh Addo-Carr, Jake Trbojevic and Angus Crichton were the most notable omissions from the latest team named by Fittler.
“One thing we pride ourselves on is that we play for our fans, and to see a full house and be part of a great atmosphere means we need to get a result for them,” Fittler said.
“The thing about Origin is that good performances don’t count, they are like grand finals. There are no second chances so that is why you get the best players, you get more time with them and you get the best facilities.
“They get everything to be ready and it is not get ready to play good - it is get ready to win.”
“When we first took over in 2018 I think we made 11 changes so I think that everyone is of the understanding, including the coaching staff, that if we aren’t winning and we aren’t doing extremely well then we give someone else a go.
“That is just the way State of Origin is. We expect to win every game.”
Haas is relieved to be in camp with the Blues in Sydney but he has no regrets about how the bombshell decision on the his playing future was handled – just an understanding of why Broncos fans reacted the way they did last Friday night.
“I am grateful to Freddy for choosing me,” Haas said. “I don’t regret it. It is what it is, I can’t change the situation. I was a bit shocked from all the boos, but I understand why they did that and the timing of it all.
“That is in the past and I am over it now. [Broncos coach] Kevvie [Walters] said at least I will be used to it if I get to go to Suncorp Stadium with the Blues for Origin III.
“If there are people I may have hurt. I am sorry for that. At the end of the day, I am trying to do what is best for my family and what is right for them.”
Haas said he had spoken with Blues team-mate Kotoni Staggs and Maroons forward Patrick Carrigan, while texting the remainder of his Brisbane team-mates before last Friday night’s stunning 35-24 comeback win against the Titans.
“The first people I told were Kotoni and Patty. I told them everything that was happening. and they understood and supported me,” Haas said.
“I told all the boys that I was committed, and I want to play footy. I am a person like that. If I have got a task in hand, I will just focus on that and I won’t get distracted.
“I had to compose myself at first, I was just trying to focus on the game and block the crowd out. I just took a few deep breaths, and I kept reverting back to the fact I am getting to play footy with my mates in front of a big crowd.”
He has also received support from Sonny Bill Williams and injured Brisbane captain Adam Reynolds, who was the subject of an ongoing contract saga with South Sydney last year before joining the Broncos.
“Reyno was good. He was just seeing if I was alright and if I was all good about it,” Haas said. “He has been through a lot so he understands and he just told me not to worry, it will all blow over soon."
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