An extended post-season international program has proved an unexpected boost for Queensland State of Origin coach Kevin Walters, with the Maroons’ playing depth boosted by the senior representative debuts handed to the likes of AJ Brimson and Kyle Feldt.
Current Maroons Kalyn Ponga, David Fifita and Jai Arrow received their first call-up to international duty as part of the Queensland contingent named in the Australian squads for the World Cup Nines, the Prime Minister’s XIII match against Fiji, the Junior Kangaroos Test against France, and of course, top-flight Tests with Mal Meninga’s Kangaroos.
But it was the string of Maroons-in-waiting who stand to benefit the most from a busy post-season calendar, with a dose of representative experience adding to their rugby league resumes as they try to impress Walters and the Queensland selectors in 2020.
“I have been very impressed with their performances through the Nines, the Prime Minister’s XIII game and the Junior Kangaroos,” Walters said.
“The more footy you can play in those rep teams, particularly spending time in camp around other quality players, it always helps your game and can take younger guys to the next level.
“Just being around more experienced representative players – seeing how they prepare, how they train, what they do with recovery – the good young players absorb all of that and take it back to their club and put it into practice for themselves.”
Brimson and Feldt were together in the Australian Nines team, while Feldt was the only “uncapped” Maroon in the Prime Minister’s XIII team.
But the next-generation Maroons were on full display in the Junior Kangaroos’ crushing win over France.
Fifita captained the squad that contained Brimson, halfback Brodie Croft, hooker Reed Mahoney, Tully junior Thomas Flegler, young Raiders prop Corey Horsburgh and Melbourne Storm’s young giant Tino Fa’asuamaleaui.
“Playing in these types of matches and just getting that exposure to the higher levels of the game does so much for your confidence,” Walters said.
“I think it will do the world of good for a guy like Kyle Feldt, who has been knocking on the door for Origin for a long time.
“He has waited for several years to get an opportunity, so it is great to not only see him get a chance, but for him to make the most of it and perform so well while wearing the green and gold.
“Kyle finished off the season really well with the Cowboys, and we have seen him play so well for a long time now, so we know he is capable. But I think it is important for him to have performed well in these appearances with Australia.
“Now that he has been involved in representative footy, been a part of it and excelled, he won’t be over-awed by the prospect of getting picked for Queensland at Origin level.
“We know he is a fantastic finisher, and a big body as well, and he certainly would not look out of place in a Queensland jersey next year.”