By Chris Kennedy (NRL.com)
This time last year, Bulldogs forward Josh Jackson had been called into the NSW squad as 18th man. Fast forward 12 months and Jackson is the Blues' starting lock and the new 18th man, Tyson Frizell, shapes up as a key man in the changing of the guard in the NSW forward pack.
With seasoned campaigners Paul Gallen, Greg Bird, Anthony Watmough and Luke Lewis all unavailable or not selected, there are just three men in the squad over 30 in captain Robbie Farah and back-rowers Ryan Hoffman and Beau Scott.
The state has a history of powerful back-rowers and this year Jackson and Boyd Cordner get their chance to cement themselves as players of the future, but it may not be long until breakout Dragons star Frizell gets his opportunity.
Frizell has played a full part in the Blues' field training sessions at Coffs Harbour, and he told NRL.com he hopes it is a sign that if he keeps improving his football he may get a chance to pull on the sky blue jersey down the track.
"It's awesome just to be a part of this group. It's something I've always watched and always dreamed of being a part of and it's great to get the experience," he said.
"Hopefully I get my opportunity sometime down the track but for now I'm just enjoying being in camp and soaking it all up and seeing what happens behind the scenes."
While taking nothing for granted, Frizell can hope he can join what is – for the most part – a powerful young pack to form the future of the Blues forwads alongside the likes of Merrin, Jackson, Cordner, David Klemmer and Andrew Fifita as well as starting props Aaron Woods and James Tamou, all under the age of 26.
"We are a fairly young team compared to Queensland and hopefully those boys can stay there for a while and hopefully I can find my way in there after a time. It would be nice to have a core group we could stick with and hopefully go on and play a few series together."
The strong form of his club and his ability play on an edge or in the middle have both boosted Frizell's claims for an interstate jersey, and while he prefers to play out wide Frizell said that utility value is a welcome part of his game.
"I like to play a bit out wider but I know I can play in the middle and I guess that versatility can be a good thing. I'm happy playing in the middle and enjoying my time at the moment out wide.
"Whatever I'm needed for, whether it's club footy or if it comes to State of Origin, if it comes to playing in the middle I'd be able to do that job."
Of his experiences so far in the Blues camp, Frizell said it has been a steep learning curve watching what goes on to get a group to gel in just a week.
"I guess you get a short amount of time to prepare so when boys come into camp it's a lot of learning in the first couple of days but everything's pretty much nice and calm because both teams have a lot of talent.
"You're not going to beat someone in talent. You just watch what goes on – at the moment it's a bit more relaxed, just trying to get combinations together. It's been enjoyable so far so I'm just going to try and enjoy the rest of the week."
Asked about his future career ambitions, Frizell is happy to nominate a Blues jersey at the top of the list.
"First of all I'd like to find a spot in the [NSW] team, whether it be next game, next year, I just want to play good footy and if I get picked on the back of that I'd love the opportunity to play for my state.
"I'd love a lengthy career in rugby league and a successful one too so those are kind of my early goals at the moment."