James Tedesco rates Tom Trbojevic an even more dangerous weapon for NSW in State of Origin now than when he scored a hat-trick two years ago.
Trbojevic will make his return to the Origin arena in Wednesday night’s opener in Townsville, after missing all of last year’s series through injury.
The Manly fullback has arguably been the most dangerous player in the competition for the past two months, completely turning around the Sea Eagles’ season.
Origin will make for a different challenge.
The 24-year-old will run out at right centre for the Blues, but is likely to be given freedom to roam as an extra fullback at times in attack.
Trbojevic scored a hat-trick in his first game at centre for the Blues in Perth in 2019, but was largely restricted three weeks later in that year’s decider.
“He’s playing better footy now than he was back then,” NSW captain Tedesco told AAP.
“He’s had a few years of experience and he’s got over a couple of injuries as well. He’s looking great out there.
“He’s put on a bit of size as well, he’s looking huge. So he’s using that size to his advantage and creating a lot of havoc.
“Hopefully we can cause some havoc together.”
Queensland have invested time into trying to stop Trbojevic, with the bigger body in Kurt Capewell an option to play at left centre to try and shut him down.
But those who have played against Trbojevic since his return from a hamstring injury at the start of April know just how hard it is to stop him.
The Manly ace has set up 13 tries and scored eight of his own in just seven games, and was fourth in the Dally M race when votes went behind closed doors, despite missing the first five rounds.
“It just shows how much influence he has on a team,” Blues and Penrith five-eighth Jarome Luai said.
“When we played Manly he was a big one to shut down … It’s pretty crazy one guy can change a whole game plan and the way teams look at their side.
“He scored a 60-metre try, and I still think we went alright (in stopping him) considering.”
Minimising Trbojevic’s impact is just one crucial component to Wednesday’s Origin opener.
How Penrith’s halves adapt to State of Origin will be key, as well as Cameron Munster’s fitness in the No.6 jersey for Queensland.
NSW must also find a way to stop David Fifita on the Maroons’ left edge, with the hulking second-rower running straight at Nathan Cleary.