Kotoni Staggs in NSW training in June 2022.
Kotoni Staggs says he is ready for a second shot at State of Origin football with NSW. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS
  • rugby league

Staggs ready for Origin shot as Cleary adds to NSW woes

May 12, 2024

Kotoni Staggs says he would return to State of Origin a more mature player if selected, as NSW prepare for a campaign without Nathan Cleary and Tom Trbojevic.

Penrith confirmed on Sunday morning that Cleary would miss eight weeks with a right hamstring problem, ruling him out of the first two Origin clashes.

His injury came 24 hours after Trbojevic was ruled out for a similar time, with the Manly star battling his sixth hamstring injury in five-and-a-half years.

Nathan Cleary leaves the field for Penrith.
 Nathan Cleary leaves the field after injuring his hamstring against Canterbury on Friday. Image by Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS 

Making a nightmare weekend even worse for first-time Blues coach Michael Maguire are further injury concerns hovering over Mitch Moses and Nicho Hynes.

Moses has a chance of featuring in his first game in almost two months for Parramatta against Melbourne on May 19, but is no certainty to play.

Hynes is also not guaranteed to feature at Magic Round for Cronulla, after a calf strain ruled him out of the Sharks’ win over the Storm on Saturday night.

Either of the halves could replace Cleary, but their injuries mean they may only play once more before Maguire names his side at the end of the month.

Cleary’s injury has also turned the spotlight onto the race for the No.6 jersey, with Hynes, Jarome Luai and Matt Burton in contention.

The answer is less clear cut at centre.

Trbojevic was NSW’s best player when they last won the series in 2021, but has managed just 71 minutes of football for the Blues since then.

Tom Trbojevic runs with the ball for NSW.
 Tom Trbojevic was NSW’s best player when they last won the series in 2021. Image by Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS 

Latrell Mitchell is also unlikely to be picked, with talk he may make himself unavailable in order to help rebuild South Sydney’s season.

Incumbents Bradman Best and Stephen Crichton are the frontrunners to be picked in the centres, with Staggs and Zac Lomax among other options.

Staggs played right centre for NSW in the 2022 series opener, but injured his shoulder late in the loss.

He was dropped for game two of that series, as he battled with a torn labrum in his shoulder for the rest of the series.

But after playing in last year’s grand final with Brisbane, the 25-year-old believes he is well placed for another shot at Origin.

“I’ve learned a lot more,” Staggs said. 

“Back then, I just got rushed in at the back end. But I feel like I’m ready now. I’ll put my defence first then attack.

“I know I’ve got attack there, but I’m more focused on my defence. 

“Defence wins you games. I’ve matured a lot more as a player.”

Kotoni Staggs receives treatment for NSW.
 Injured on his Origin debut, Staggs says he would return as a more mature player in 2024. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS 

Staggs said he had felt he had been ‘teased’ by the chance to play Origin, without having a proper shot at performing to his best in the jersey.

“I’ve got a lot to prove and a lot to do as well,” he said.

“It’s always the right time (to be picked). I just got injured in (2022’s Origin opener) and I carried it for the rest of the season. 

“But that’s what happens in Origin. It’s the toughest footy out there. It’s the best of the best. 

“Hopefully, if I get a chance again, I’ll take it with both hands.”