Utoikamanu eyeing second chance at State of Origin

Jasper Bruce |

Stefano Utoikamanu is feeling ready for a second chance to play State of Origin for NSW.
Stefano Utoikamanu is feeling ready for a second chance to play State of Origin for NSW.

Stefano Utoikamanu admits he was not ready for his State of Origin debut last year.

But Wests Tigers’ winning ways and a recent meeting with new NSW coach Michael Maguire have left the prop confident he could make the best of a second chance in 2024.

Utoikamanu had been included in extended Origin squads since 2021, but played only 12 minutes from the bench on debut during NSW’s game-two loss last year.

Utoikamanu’s first game for the Blues came as the Tigers languished towards the foot of the NRL ladder, which the prop felt hurt his chances of shining at Suncorp Stadium.

“It’s hard to come into Origin footy when your team’s not going the best,” he said.

“I felt like I was probably not ready, mentally. I felt like physically I was ready for it, but mentally I wasn’t.”

After his minutes were impacted by Brad Fittler’s erratic use of the bench, Utoikamanu was dropped from the squad altogether for Origin III.

Stefano Utoikamanu
Stefano Utoikamanu proudly wears the NSW State of Origin colours last year. (Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS)

He appeared to fall further out of favour when Fittler’s successor Maguire omitted him from a 36-man camp attended by Blues hopefuls in the pre-season.

Eight other middle forwards were picked ahead of the 23-year-old.

Maguire reached out to Utoikamanu in February and has since insisted the door is not shut on his Origin future.

“It was a bit disappointing at the time, but I understood where he was coming from,” Utoikamanu said.

Unprompted, Tigers coach Benji Marshall gave Utoikamanu’s representative credentials a ringing endorsement after Monday’s 17-16 defeat of Parramatta.

The young prop is averaging 113 run metres and has forged a formidable starting front-row partnership with David Klemmer on the Tigers’ 2-1 start to the year.

Wests’ resurgent ways have helped reignite Utoikamanu’s belief that he could be picked for Origin.

“This game’s massive mentally,” Utoikamanu said.

“Everyone’s pretty similar physically.

“But I think the mental side of the game is the biggest thing everyone’s got to improve on.

“I think when you’re winning it’s easier to get picked in those kind of teams.

“I know this time around (ahead of Origin), I definitely want to win more games. That’s only going to give me more confidence every week to be the best player I can be.”

Utoikamanu met with Maguire late last month and told his former coach at the Tigers that he felt ready for another chance in Blue.

“I just want to show him that I’m ready for it,” he said.

“I want to play my best footy and put my best foot forward to get into that team.”

AAP