Kalyn Ponga romped home in 2023 with a magical two months that engraved his name into the Dally M medal.

While a few questioned his season-long quality over the consistency of Warriors legend Shaun Johnson, Ponga became anointed as the NRL’s best – having already conquered the cauldron of Origin.

Yet for Nicho Hynes, tonight’s game one against the Maroons is undoubtedly the biggest challenge of his career to date – and he’s had no shortage of those.

Nicho Hynes of the Blues poses during a New South Wales Blues State of Origin media opportunity at NSWRL Centre of Excellence on May 28, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Nicho Hynes is primed for Origin 1 as NSW No.7 (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Last night it was revealed by Blues assistant coach Matt King on NRL360, that the No.7 would also take the goal kicking reins, showing he is ready for the responsibility despite New South Wales boasting a number of options.

The 27-year-old put together a polished 2022, leading the Sharks to second-place on the ladder, only to be swept in straight sets during the post-season finals.

Hynes had no state or country caps to his name and was arguably still finding his feet as a proper halfback – having dabbled as a utility with Melbourne.

For rugby league fans across Australia, Hynes’ 80 minute performance tonight can be even more glorifying than his Dally M season.

Matty Johns is a huge advocate for the Origin arena marking the maturity and class of a player. He believes Nathan Cleary is yet to pronounce his authority on a series, which remains the only thing left for him to achieve in a dazzling nine-year career – yes, he’s 26 and in his ninth NRL season.

Hynes is part of a young Blues side that have tasted success, but not true dominance. Jarome Luai, Isaah Yeo, Jake Trbojevic, Liam Martin – sure, they have all won a series and been part of that blow-out Optus Stadium 44-12 drubbing over Queensland (which NSW went on to lose), but they aren’t Blues champions – players who are part of a golden era.

When Ponga was thrust into Origin, his 50-odd minute debut showed everybody he was the real deal. Every time he touched the ball or bolted up in support play, you had the sense danger was imminent.

For me, Hynes’ Origin debut is tonight. Wipe the slate clean after last year. Having to mark Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow for the final 10 minutes of a game in a position you haven’t played is a nightmare. Yes, I understand it’s also Origin – you must adapt, but that simply wasn’t the play. Hynes is a starter, leave the impact minutes up to the post-contact leg-drive of Spencer Leniu.

Given the Sharks’ embarrassing loss to the Panthers in round 12 and their recent lack of high-pressure success in finals, many will be quick to conclude that Hynes is not a big moments halfback if the Blues lose.

2022 NRL Dally M medallist Nicholas Hynes poses for a photo during the 2022 Dally M Awards at The Winx Stand, Royal Randwick Racecourse on September 28, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

2022 NRL Dally M medallist Nicholas Hynes (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

That’s the deal one makes with Origin, a game can define your image, either immortalised or thrown to the curb. Sure, you can continue to carve up in clubland, but when June comes around, consider yourself a spectator.

It’s what we’ve seen with players like Adam Reynolds, who is praised every week after a Broncos Suncorp win. While he may be getting on, chat of the former Bunny in a Blues jersey over the last five years has been put to bed. Two appearances and two consecutive losses was enough to sound the alarms on his state ability.

And how about Kotoni Staggs, the one-cap centre, or Ronaldo Mulitalo – sorry that’s right, he’s actually a Kiwi.

A game one win can solidify Hynes’ spot as the Blues half this series. He doesn’t have to light it up on an Andrew Johns level, but he must be the controlling halves partner. Luai is best playing second-fiddle, while it sounds disrespectful in nature, it’s entirely where he fits and thrives.

Take on the line, take a risk, take a chance – instead of back peddaling like we’ve seen Cody Walker do on an interstate stage.

They don’t give Dally M medals out to chumps. Hynes may not be as talented as New South Wales’ golden boy Cleary, but if he wins a series – he can confidently take a one-up on the three-time premiership winner, having an MVP and Origin gong.

It just so happens that Johnathan Thurston had the best of both worlds in one season. He debuted as Queensland’s No.7 in 2005 but with no instant success, losing the series, but going on to win the Dally M medal.

He went on to win it three more times and turned the Maroons into a winning kingdom, so really, throw the blueprint out the window Nicho.





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