‘Damaging’ Maroon Nanai injury-free and set for MCG

Joel Gould |

Jeremiah Nanai trained with Queensland on Saturday after recovering from a calf injury.
Jeremiah Nanai trained with Queensland on Saturday after recovering from a calf injury.

Queensland’s X-factor second-rower Jeremiah Nanai has been declared a starter in game two of the State of Origin series after training with the team for the first time in camp.

Nanai did ball work and contact in an opposed session with the rest of the side at Sanctuary Cove on Saturday. 

He had trained on his own during the previous two sessions, with a compression bandage on his right calf.

The Maroons told AAP the 21-year-old had a “niggle”, understood to be a cork, but he appeared to be moving well ahead of Wednesday night’s MCG clash with NSW.

In one cameo, Nanai ran through a hole off a pass by Daly Cherry-Evans and stepped another teammate to score.

“Today was one of our faster sessions, so he got through it pretty well and he will be there come next Wednesday,” Maroons prop Reuben Cotter said.  

“They were just looking after him a little bit. He got a bit of a cork or something but that was about it.”

Jeremiah Nanai in action for Queensland in Origin I.
Jeremiah Nanai regularly punched holes in the Blues’ defence during Origin I. (Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS)

Nanai has emerged as one of the game’s best line-runners on an edge with North Queensland, the Maroons and Australia.

He has also made vast improvements in defence, topping the tackle count with 48 in the 38-10 win in game one of this year’s Origin series.

“You see how damaging he is with the ball, but I really like how he is defensively where he is really strong. He never lets you down,” Maroons No.6 Tom Dearden said.  

“He makes his tackles and he keeps moving from the inside out. He makes it really easy for his edge to defend and handle their shapes.”

Dearden and Cotter are Nanai’s co-captains at North Queensland and have seen his rise up close.

“It’s just his competitiveness,” Cotter said.

“Over the years he has really improved that part of his game, that effort-on-effort sort of footy. 

“Coming into these camps, something Bill Slater really focuses on is those effort areas of our footy. 

“He has all the skill and ability as well, but he has definitely improved in those areas.”

Jeremiah Nanai.
Improvements to his defensive game led Jeremiah Nanai to top the tackle count in the series opener. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

Nanai is an aerial specialist and has developed into one of the best forwards in the NRL at chasing, catching and scoring off bombs.

“It’s just his footy IQ. He has these massive mitts, which is why he can catch any high balls, but he is very silky with his ball handling,” Cotter said.

“It makes him hard to stop on the edge.”

Nanai plays for the Maroons on the right edge outside Cherry-Evans and alongside Cowboys teammate Valentine Holmes. 

The trio have been a devastating combination in the Origin arena, where Nanai has been an integral member of the Maroons squad since making his debut in 2022.

He missed game one last year due to suspension but returned in Origin II at Suncorp Stadium and had a blinder in a 32-6 win to help his side wrap up the series.

AAP