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Eighth Immortal and NSW True Blue Andrew Johns has praised the NSWRL Pathways Program for grooming the next generation into Origin stars, with a high amount of young debutants expected to be named on Monday night.
The Pathways Program has been in place for four years now - and the success is shown through the junior Origin results. No NSW Under-16, Under-18 or Under-20 team has lost to Queensland since 2015, and the Under-20 side has never lost.
Those squads have included players such as Nick Cotric, Curtis Scott, Angus Crichton, Connor Watson, Nathan Cleary, Payne Haas and Cameron Murray, with all of those partnering the likes of Mitch Moses, Jayden Brailey, and Dylan Edwards in an Emerging Blues camp in January.
The Pathways Program has played a role in grooming these kids into NRL players and eventually Origin stars - and Johns has congratulated the likes of Brad Fittler, Jamie Feeney, Brad Pryjmachuk, BJ Mather, and more recently, Alan Thompson, for their work with the program.
“Anyone who has been involved with the Pathways system at NSW for the past four or five years should be congratulated,” Johns said on Channel Nine's Sunday Footy Show.
“The players coming through from the age of 18-19 up to 22-23, we’ve just got an abundance of depth there.
“The professionalism and the way they go about their footy, it’s a really exciting time for NSW.
“I think people at the NSWRL who have been involved in those pathways... the way that they’ve groomed these young players coming through, it’s a great time.”
The fresh faces expected to be selected in the NSW side is enough to have any Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues fan excited - and the same goes for Johns.
Coach Brad Fittler has a host of Rugby League greats including Johns, Danny Buderus and Greg Alexander giving their selection opinions. After 12 rounds of speculation, it’s finally time to pick the team.
It’s an exciting time of year for someone likes Johns, who still bleeds blue as much as he did when he carved up Queensland in his playing days.
“[I’m] pumped, I love this time of year,” Johns said.
“I don’t miss playing at all, but Origin time is the time that you get butterflies in your belly and you start [to] remember the times when you were playing.
“I think it’s a really exciting time for NSW, there’s going to be some big changes, a lot of young players in who will hopefully be at that level for the next 10 years.”