By Chris Kennedy (NRL.com)
As he readies himself for his first-ever senior representative jersey, ever-confident Dragons lock Jack De Belin says while he feels it is somewhat overdue, he hopes it proves to be a major step towards his desired goal of representing NSW in State of Origin.
Fresh off an emerging Blues camp in January, the one-time Junior Kangaroo told NRL.com in the pre-season that he felt his game was perfectly suited to Origin and four months on nothing has changed.
"I feel like it's a bit overdue but it's definitely a step in the right direction. I'm really happy with being selected and I'm really happy with how it's coming along," De Belin said.
The 25-year-old has lifted his game in 2016 and is getting through a mountain of work since the departure of former hard-working Dragons lock Trent Merrin to Penrith.
Starting in the No.13 jersey and playing close to 80 minutes per week, De Belin has racked up the second most tackles of any player in the NRL this year behind only Roosters captain Jake Friend, with 382 at over 42 per game (Friend 499 at 55 per game).
But while Friend has missed 21 tackles (itself a phenomenal feat netting him a lofty 96 per cent effective tackle rate) De Belin has missed just five all year for a staggering 99 per cent effective rate.
He's getting through his work with the ball as well, making 112 metres per week. It's those sorts of numbers that catch the eye of rep selectors and there's been plenty of quality to go with the quantity for the Cootamundra Bulldogs junior in 2016.
"After being around the [emerging Blues] camp and knowing what Origin was all about, I was saying I definitely felt like I was up for Origin and that it suited my game and even after playing some more footy I still believe that," De Belin told NRL.com before the squad departed for Tamworth.
"This is the first step in that direction and it will be a good chance to show what I'm about and hopefully perform at the representative level.
"'Loz' [Blues coach Laurie Daley] has made it clear he's not picking sides on name, he's picking them on form and who deserves it and that's what you want to hear as a young fella coming through, that you've got a chance to grab a bench spot so I've just to do everything I can and put my best foot forward."
De Belin also revealed the bittersweet moment he found out about his Country selection – in New Zealand straight after his side's disappointing 26-10 loss to the Warriors on Sunday.
"After the game we copped a little bit of a spray from 'Mary' [coach Paul McGregor] who then said, 'on a good note these boys have made the rep sides' and I was lucky enough to be called upon."
De Belin said it was definitely a bittersweet moment for himself and fellow Country reps Euan Aitken and Tyson Frizell.
"It was a weird feeling; I wasn't very impressed with the way I played, I was pretty disappointed actually but then being told I was playing Country – I don't think it really gave me a chance to let it sit in because I was more frustrated from the game but once it sunk in I was happy and very proud."
But once it did filter in, De Belin was proud to finally be a part of the fixture that he has watched every year since attending one in Wagga – an hour's drive south of his home town of Cootamundra – as a boy.
"I can remember going to one when I was a young fella back in Wagga when they had the ground there before they pulled it down.
"I watch it every year, it's a good game to watch, everyone wants to be playing Origin so it's a good chance for everyone to get out there and show what they're about. I've grown up watching it so to now be a part of it is fantastic," he said.