Maroons aviator Xavier Coates has reached out to cross-code star Karmichael Hunt to save his season and firmly believes he won’t let Queensland down in the State of Origin arena.
Coates will make his third appearance for the Maroons at the Origin series kick-off Wednesday night at the Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville.
The Broncos winger was picked by new Queensland manager Paul Green despite being in patchy form for Brisbane recently.
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After scoring six tries in the first four games of the season in Brisbane, Coates’ form deteriorated as he pondered his future and eventually decided to move to Melbourne for the next two years.
At 20, the limelight and speculation weighed heavily on Coates and sought advice from Hunt, who has played in the NRL, AFL and Super Rugby.
Hunt joined the Broncos in April, and Coates said the former Origin and Test star’s mentoring helped him recover from a tough run in which he only scored twice in eight games.
“As an NRL player, I take pride in playing consistent football and I felt like I was struggling to play consistent football,” said Coates.
“I took some advice from a teammate in Brisbane at Karmichael Hunt.
“It’s unreal, he’s one of the greats. What he did in the Origin arena was unreal.
“It is good to take advice from him and see what he has done and to know that he is helping me as a youngster who has a little hard time with certain categories in my career to know that he has taken that into account.
“I’m still learning, of course. I’m still a young player. I have help at the club. There is no shortage of players willing to give advice and I’m looking for them.”
“Karmichael has been a really big help to me. Also, I have (former Queensland and Kangaroos winger) Jharal Yow Yeh … I am still in touch with him and he is helping me out a bit.
“I’m just happy to be at this camp and I’m looking forward to the first game. It was a really good feeling to know that ‘Greeny’ believes in me, that I will wear that maroon shirt again.”
Hunt, 34, made his debut for the Broncos at the age of 17 in 2004 and has seen it all in a remarkable 18-year professional career.
He believes Coates is one of the most impressive young talents he has ever seen and it will only be a matter of time before he gets back to his best.
“He’s a great young man,” said Hunt of Coates. “I can understand why ‘Bellyache’ (Craig Bellamy) and the Storm wanted it to go down there.
“He trains really well and I see him come up to me for advice on how to be consistent as someone who really cares about his foot.
“If he’s not in the position he wants to be in, he wants to do something about it. If that means talking to an older head or doing a few extras while exercising, it is.
“He’s a really talented and good quality player. He’ll keep going with that attitude.”
Coates ‘future became one of the NRL’s biggest talking points as he considered the Storm and Gold Coast Titans’ offers to leave Brisbane. He eventually settled on Melbourne and brought the news to his Broncos teammates after they lost a point to North Queensland in Round 9.
“There’s no doubt about it (it affected him),” said Hunt. “I’ve been through similar situations where you move on but are still with a current club. It’s a difficult situation.
“He spent much of his youth at a club and then made the decision to go elsewhere. Not everyone is happy with the decisions you make, but it’s a learning experience for him to go through.
“As a young child, external things affect you. They have to learn to deal with them, and at the end of the day, when it is time to take hold, you have to show up and go about your business.”
Coates made his Origin debut last year and shone on the biggest stage in the league by scoring two tries in the first two games before missing the decision due to injury.
Despite his recent form battles, Coates is confident he can deliver for Queensland on Wednesday night and is looking to end his final season with Brisbane in full swing.
“Yes, I am confident (of the performance),” he said. “Everything I do in training will be carried over to the field. I have to train really well and that will show in my game.
“Last year it was definitely unexpected. It was a goal of mine to play Origin football in my career, but I didn’t know it would come this early.
“Wearing this shirt last year was an unreal feeling. Getting the call from ‘Greeny’ this year felt like my debut again.
“I wanted to make up my mind as early as possible so that I can continue playing football. I’m glad the decision was made. I want to continue now.”
“I’m very determined (to end the year well). I feel like I’ve worked very hard and I want to keep that. I want that to be carried over to the football field.”
The Maroons received a huge boost when champion five-eighth Cameron Munster declared he was a surefire starter to take on the blues in Origin I this Wednesday night.
Just a week ago, Munster claimed the Maroons were taking a “massive risk” by picking him to kick off the series as the Storm sensation had been around since Jan.
But two solid sessions in the past week, including his first practice run with the Maroons on Thursday, convinced Munster that he could play the pain threshold on Origins debut at the Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville.
While Kalyn Ponga (groin) is a loss, Munster’s availability is a major shot in the arm for the Maroons and Queensland’s main player who has vowed to up the heat against his five-eighth rival, NSW debutant Jarome Luai.
“The injury is going well, I had my first run with the guys and I drove well,” he said.
“I lasted the whole session, so keep your fingers crossed that I can do something similar (on Friday) and get a few more kilometers in my legs.
“I woke up pretty sore, not so much with my feet, but with my legs in general. It’s been a while since I’ve had to run at high intensity, but the body feels fine and I can barely go Wednesday night expect.
“At this point I have not yet been patted on the shoulder by ‘Greeny’ (Queensland coach Paul Green) who said I am not playing so all systems are for me.
While Munster has great respect for Luai’s outstanding form with the Panthers, the 10 experience games of the Maroons Pivot for Queensland show him that there is new pressure to rise in the Origin arena.
Munster could argue that he has a psychological advantage over Luai after his Storm squad beat the Panthers in the NRL grand final last year.
Luai and NSW half partner Nathan Cleary have the benefit of a scorching club combo this season, but Munster insists the Maroons will use the blowtorch on the blues five-eighth greenhorn.
“He plays some great footy. Kudos to him and the Panthers, they play some decent footy and congratulations on his debut.
“I’m sure he’ll come in with a lot of confidence and play the game that he knows he can play.
“We have to ruin his time and space. That’s all you can do sometimes. You can go out and say anything you want to do, but actions speak louder than words and we have to make sure we get out there and clear him.” make “how hard the Origin arena is.”
Munster said last week that if he worsened his Lisfranc injury in the Origin opener, there is a risk that he could be sidelined at the end of the season.
But the reigning Wally Lewis medalist says that won’t stop him from bringing down the Blues for the second straight year.
“There is no glossing over, anyone who is injured knows that there is a risk if they keep playing.
“I made it through Origin unscathed and I was fine, and four days later someone stepped on my foot.
“I wouldn’t put myself out there if I couldn’t go out and do my job for Queensland.
“I’m not going to needle it. I’ll make sure it’s around 80 percent before I go out.
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