Young: Origin The Pinnacle Of Rugby League
Tuesday 9 July 2013 8:00 AM
“I was very lucky to play one Test match and one Grand Final, but the one State of Origin that I played was a lot harder than both of those games.
“I think it’s the pinnacle of rugby league in terms of how hard the game is, and I don’t think that will ever change.”
This is how former St George Illawarra Dragons utility forward Dean Young explains State of Origin’s standing as rugby league’s marquee event.
After battling a crippling knee injury for the majority of his career, the Dapto Canaries junior thought the opportunity to test himself in the interstate arena had passed him by.
Former New South Wales coach Ricky Stuart had other ideas however, and Young ran out as the starting hooker for New South Wales in the 2011 series opener at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane.
“Ricky Stuart was a wonderful coach, and I was very appreciative of the opportunity that he gave me,” said Young.
“There’s a bit to the story; obviously it’s well-documented what’s happened to my knee, but I knew before the team was announced that he was going ahead with me.
“He was working very closely with Andrew Gray, our sports scientist at the club.
“Ricky asked Andrew what sort of training I can do, and Andrew said I could do about 30 minutes one day, and about 10 minutes the day before the game.
“That was out of the whole 10 days of the camp, and Ricky said, ‘no worries, he’s picked’.
“For him to give me the opportunity to play State of Origin, and for me to reach one of my dreams on that sort of preparation and given how big the game was, I’m very appreciative of the opportunity.”
Selection gave Young the chance to test himself against the game’s best, and while it ranks as one of his greatest achievements, the moment that stands out to the 29-year-old is one he would rather forget.
“A couple of minutes out from fulltime – we were up at the time – it went wide and I was at marker,” Young recalls.
“Queensland threw it about three passes wide, and Darren Lockyer passed it to Billy Slater and they scored with about a minute to go, and the game was gone.
“It’s way harder than an NRL game; looking back on the 2010 Grand Final win over the Roosters and looking back on Origin, I think Origin was a lot quicker and a lot tougher.”
Playing State of Origin was a lifelong dream for Young, especially after father and fellow Dragons favourite son Craig Young represented the Blues in the inaugural match in 1980, going on to play five Origins.
This, coupled with a five-year wait after being named eighteenth man in 2006, made the occasion all the more special for Young.
“I was very proud when my name got called out on the news; I was in the lounge room, and my parents, my wife Brooke and my sister were there,” said Young.
“It certainly hit home when I pulled on the jersey, and I was quite proud standing there about to sing the national anthem, and getting ready for one of the biggest games of my life.
“Coming from New South Wales – all the Queenslanders go on about how proud they are – but growing up watching Laurie Daley, Andrew Johns and those guys play, being selected meant a lot to me and it’s something I’ll never forget.”
The history of State of Origin is not lost on the recently retired utility, and some of the Blues’ greatest moments spurred Young on as he prepared for his debut.
“Growing up in the 90s, I looked up to Laurie Daley; he was so physical for a five-eighth or centre,” said Young.
“I remember one hit off a tap restart where he got Andrew Gee a beauty; that was my favourite moment as a kid.
“During my career, Andrew Johns dominating the game in 2005, and the Shaun Timmins field goal in 2004 stand out.
“’Timmo’ looked after me when I came into first-grade, and I’m still good mates with him today.
“He was more of a lock forward, so he was a makeshift five-eighth, and for him to put his hand up in extra time to kick a field goal and win New South Wales the game is a great memory for a mate, and a great memory for him to have.”