By Chris Kennedy (NRL.com)
Fresh from a day in a pre-season emerging Blues camp, Dragons forward Jack De Belin has boldly declared he's ready to step up to interstate honours this year if Blues coach Laurie Daley wants to pick him.
The 24-year-old was bitterly disappointed to miss selection for Country Origin in 2015 and hopes to break his senior representative duck in the 2016 fixture after representing the Junior Kangaroos (alongside fellow 2016 Emerging Blues participant Kane Evans) back in 2011.
"After being there [in the camp on Saturday] and experiencing it I definitely feel like I'm made for Origin, what it's about is suited to my game," De Belin said.
"Definitely [I'm ready]. I feel like I've been ready to play rep footy for a while now but last year I definitely feel like I took that step and showed I was capable of performing on the biggest stage.
"After going through what makes a good Origin player and the structures and things they run there, it suits my game completely and I don't feel like the arena's too big for me at all. I'll be ready."
De Belin's confidence is a breath of fresh air in an era when ready-made replies about taking things one game at a time are standard.
While some may interpret his comments as brashness or as another entitled millennial, De Belin doesn't for a second claim he deserves or is entitled to an Origin jersey – just that he desperately wants it and is prepared to show he can handle it.
In many ways De Belin is a paradox; his topknot and two nose rings couldn't seem further from the style of old Blues hardnuts like Mark Carroll, Noel Cleal and Mark Harragon.
Yet his work rate, competitiveness and efficient and unfussed tackling style that stops bigger men in their tracks are a perfect throwback to a bygone rugby league era.
Underscoring his approach, De Belin's defensive stats from 2015 make for impressive reading. In 22 games he averaged 35 tackles per match, making 769 in total and missing just 27, for a lofty effective tackle rate of almost 97 per cent.
The one-time NYC player of the year hasn't matched fellow Junior Roos alumni Boyd Cordner and Josh Jackson in reaching the top level just yet but as a middle forward he is only beginning to enter his prime as a footballer.
De Belin said the chance to mix with other emerging players and hear from NSW coach Laurie Daley has provided the perfect boost late in the pre-season.
"I got a lot out of it. The camp was unreal," he said.
"I had a great time just learning what Origin is about and what makes a good Origin player. We also went through a few plays and that just to get up to speed in case any of us get called up and just getting told you're the next in line is a pretty good feeling.
"We had a seminar just learning about what Origin is about as a whole, what makes an Origin player, meeting the other boys then went out on the field and learnt about the plays and what structures they're running and what sets they have.
"Then we had a meeting with a speaker about the culture and what they've created there at the Blues and what makes a good Origin player – it's more about attitude than it is about talent."
Therein lies the reason for De Belin's confidence – the unshakable belief that hard work and dedication are the key to higher honours – and it's where he believes he can match it with the best of the best.
De Belin also concedes there is a perception the Blues have lacked the types of on-field leaders Queensland have had over the past decade of dominance – the kind to grab the game by the scruff of the neck when it is there to be won or lost.
"They reckon that Queensland, the culture they've created and the stability and the leaders, they reckon they've had more people sticking their hands up when times get tough and NSW, it kind of feels we've been short on leaders but they've definitely brought the passion back into NSW," hesaid.
"[Former coach] Ricky Stuart did a good job there and 'Loz' has definitely [carried] the flame."
De Belin said getting the nod for the emerging camp in the pre-season was a great boost personally after the disappointment of missing out on Country Origin selection last year.
"I felt like I was pretty hard done by with Country, I spoke to a few people who had the same feeling as me but there's no point sulking about it, you've got to get on with it and keep playing good footy. I felt like I did that and it was a nice reward," he said.
"Pre-season is a bit of a slog and you kind of just worry about day-to-day. For that to pop up it definitely boosts the self esteem and helps you get through those last couple of weeks knowing you've got something to aim for and it's something that is the next step in my football career."