Blues must pick perfect problem solver

NRL Rd 6 -  Knights v Roosters
Connor Watson’s dreams of playing in the Origin opener were ruined because of injury, but the star utility is back in the mix for the must-win match in Melbourne. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Michael Maguire was panned for not picking a genuine utility on the bench for game one, but if the rookie NSW coach wants to mix things up, he only has to look at Connor Watson who was reportedly on the cusp of earning an Origin debut before those dreams were shattered by another frustrating injury setback.

The Roosters utility has been outstanding for them in a number of roles, with Watson playing the full 80 minutes at dummy-half against the Eels with Brandon Smith stood down for the clash for missing a team meeting.

The speedy Watson can play hooker, lock, in the halves or even at centre, with every coach these days dreaming of having their very own Swiss Army knife given there are so many injuries to key players.

Unfortunately, Watson has had his unfair share of injuries over the years, with a bump to the throat while making a tackle during Magic Round sidelining him for a month when his name was on everyone’s lips for an Origin debut.

NRL Rd 15 -  Eels v Roosters
Connor Watson returned against Parramatta and troubled them with his speed around the ruck. Picture: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

“It was a weird one. It was frustrating because it was something that was so innocuous,” Watson said, having suffered a throat cartilage fracture in 2022.

“It was the risk with the throat (that kept me out). I felt like I could play after a week because the pain and stuff went out of it, but then the doctors said ‘it’s so risky if you play’.

“We asked every specialist or anyone that had an opinion on it, and they all said four weeks. Even this week they were sitting on the fence, but I was like ‘you told me four weeks. This Saturday is four weeks, so I’m playing’.

“I missed a whole year last year so I just wanted to get back and play.

“I felt like I was playing really good footy and I was in a groove, and then you get something like this and you have to sit out for a month.

“I knew my throat was fine because the last time I did it, it felt worse and I played after four weeks last time. The scan was worse last time so I knew I was fine to play today (Saturday).”

NRL Rd 6 -  Knights v Roosters
Watson has been dreaming about representing his state since he was a child. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

The Blues struggled to adapt when Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii was sent off in game one, which is why Watson and Matt Burton are battling it out for a bench spot to ensure they have options should someone in the outside backs go down.

Watson hasn’t spoken with Maguire yet, but a phone call would be life-changing for a young man who was out for more than 500 days and only returned to the field this year following a gruesome knee injury.

“It’d be crazy, it’d mean the world to me,” he said.

“Every kid dreams of it. As a kid, Origin is the pinnacle of rugby league and it meant so much to us.

“If I did get the call, it’d be an unbelievable childhood dream, but we’ll see what happens.

“I’ve always dreamt about playing it, but when I got back this year I was more worried about getting back from the knee and playing again.

“To even be in those conversations was like ‘oh, this has come pretty quickly’, and it shows how fast things move in footy. If you’re playing well, you never know what might happen.”