While many 21-year-olds could have a hangover on Sunday morning, Penrith Panthers star Stephen Crichton drove his mother to church.
- NSW coach Brad Fittler has named six players without caps in his 22-member squad
- He said talking to Crichton was the best of all
- Penrith’s center was named on the bench with Jack Wighton at the starting center
New South Wales coach Brad Fittler called the premiere winners to announce that he would represent his country in this year’s Origin series.
“It was really weird – even weirder when we had Mom there, we were in the car on the way to church,” Crichton told ABC Sport.
“His name appeared on the caller ID in my car, Freddy checked my concussion last week and clicked on who it was.”
“He told me the news and my mom was just over a month old and she started crying. Experiencing it was really weird too.”
The phone call was just as gratifying to Fittler, who said it was the best call he had made this year.
“He was with his mom, he was very excited and it’s always good to tell them they have their first jersey,” he said.
“I heard her [Crichton’s mum] she went crazy in the background. That is the beauty of this position; you can make some really good phone calls, and when you first see them coming to camp, it’s a real privilege. “
Crichton’s rise as one of the NRL’s most prominent players is undeniable, but the center said it did not expect an invitation to the NSW.
“I was really surprised, I just didn’t want to assume anything,” he said.
“I just focused on playing good football for Penrith, and I’ve done the best I can to get this place over the last few years – so it’s really great to be here now.”
Since Origin veterans such as Josh Addo-Carr and Jake Trbojevic were ax-ridden and Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell were injured, Crichton said NSW debutants (three in 17, six in 22) have huge shoes that must fill.
“These are huge names that have been hurt and couldn’t get through either, but I think it gives an opportunity to the boys who boarded,” he said.
“If we get this opportunity, we will be hungrier to succeed, so we will fight really hard for it and fight for our state.”
Since his NRL debut in 2019, Junior Penrith has played in two grand finals, including a premiere in 2021, and is set to represent the Blues in the first game in Sydney on Wednesday.
“I’m excited about the first match in Sydney, the advantage of the home crowd helps,” he said.
Will the magic of the Panthers see the NSW shield in 2022?
Crichton is one of seven Panthers players in the 22-member squad, with Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai, Brian To’o, Liam Martin and Isaah Yeo joining the expected 17, with Apisai Koroisau in reserve.
Crichton believes that the cohesion of the players Penrith and the leading form of the leaderboard will help guide the Blues to another victory in the series in 2022.
“The energy that the boys bring is great, the other boys are here to experience it as well, and I think it will definitely help,” Crichton said.
Fittler also counts on them, in his selections for 2022 the form prevails over loyalty.
“If you look at all but two, they’re all in the top eight teams; we have six Penrith players, so a lot of it is about what they do on the field,” he said.
“As a footballer, he makes such a difference week after week.”
Crichton was named the number 14 jersey for the starter of the series, which was a surprise move for the coach, and many expected him to take the left center role instead and appoint NSW acting representative Jack Wighton.
But last-minute changes and mindsets are nothing new in the Origin Arena, and both Wighton and Crichton have spent much of the training at the Blues Training Centers in Coogee this week.
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