By Brad Walter - NRL.com Senior Reporter
Paul Vaughan readily admits playing State of Origin wasn't even on his radar 12 months ago but after establishing himself as one of the NRL's best props in his first season with the St George Illawarra Dragons he now has his sights firmly on NSW selection.
Vaughan, who joined the Dragons last season after falling out of favour at the Canberra Raiders, was focused on reviving his NRL career and said Origin had never figured in his thoughts until later in the year.
After being chosen in the Prime Minister's XIII to play Papua New Guinea last September, Vaughan narrowly missed out on selection in Australia's World Cup squad and was a key member of the Italy team.
It was a huge turnaround for a player who had been demoted to Canberra's feeder club, Mounties, during the 2016 season before being released by the Raiders with a year to run on his contract.
Now Vaughan is aiming to continue his rise from NSW Cup to the NSW Origin team.
"Last year was good for me but I needed that year to build for my career because things went a bit south in Canberra," Vaughan said. "Now I am back up to where I know I can be so if I am playing good football I want to make that step up.
"I think it was important for me to start the year off good last year, obviously coming to a new club and wanting to earn the respect of the boys.
"I can't go backwards. I have to take another step in my career, play some good strong footy and hopefully there will be some higher honours down the track. If I can play the sort of footy I was last year I think I am more than capable of stepping up to that level."
While Vaughan was touted for Blues selection last year, the Raiders junior makes the stunning admission that he may not have been prepared to handle the rigours of Origin.
"If I was put in that position last year I am not sure if I was ready," Vaughan said. "I think last year was just more about trying to play good footy and trying to cement a starting spot.
"I knew that I was going in the right direction and I think that showed that it was achievable for me to play rep football.
"It is just having more confidence in myself, knowing that I played some great football last year. It made me want to strive to do better things in my career."
The arrival of England prop James Graham from Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs has given Vaughan even greater inspiration to continue building his game.
Vaughan said he had admired Graham before he joined the Dragons and considered him a role model.
"I can build on my game just by playing with him and following his actions and his leadership," Vaughan said.
"Everything he does well, like the one-percenters, working really hard off the ball, talking a lot … if I can implement that into my game I think I will improve a lot.
"He is just a competitor, everything that he does is a million miles an hour, he is very professional and obviously being at the top of the game for a long time, he knows what he is doing. He is a veteran of the front row so I am going to be picking his brain."