Cameron Smith sends ominous warning to Nicho Hynes as State of Origin pressure mounts

Smith believes Hynes will be targeted by the Maroons in Game I.

Queensland great Cameron Smith has told Nicho Hynes to prepare to be heavily targeted in his first game as Blues halfback. Hynes is expected to play despite carrying a calf injury and will partner Jarome Luai in the halves for New South Wales.

Hynes has been battling a calf complaint for several weeks and sat out the round 10 win over the Storm, before returning for Cronulla's round 11 victory over the Roosters. But the muscle again caused Hynes problems in their 42-0 loss to the Panthers, forcing him off just after the half-hour mark.

Pictured left Cameron Smith and right Nicho Hynes
Cameron Smith has warned Blues halfback Nicho Hynes to prepare for a Maroons barrage as he walks out for the first time in the NSW No.7 jersey. Image: Getty

The series opener will be Hynes’ second Origin game after a less-than-ideal debut in Game I last year, where he came off the bench and was forced to play right centre. He missed a crucial tackle which led to a Maroons try, a mistake that saw him dropped by Brad Fittler for the remainder of the series.

Ahead of the series opener on June 5, Smith says the Maroons will be keen to single out Hynes and put pressure on both his calf and mentality. And the Queensland legend believes Billy Slater will instruct his troops to aim a lot of their attack at the 2022 Dally M Medal winner. "If Nicho Hynes plays, I’d be testing him out if I’m playing," Smith said on SENQ Breakfast.

"He’s come in under an injury cloud, he didn’t get through 80 minutes on the weekend. I know there’s a lot of talk about there’s nothing wrong but he couldn’t finish a game three days ago so there’s got to be something going on, so I’d be testing him out.

"It’s his first game too, wearing No.7, so there’s no doubt I’d be going after him. As good as he’s playing at club level, and there’s no doubt he’s been playing extremely well, he’s untried at this level. He’s come off the bench and played out of position for what six minutes but this is the first time where he’s been given the reins to the New South Wales football side and said ‘Here you go, go and run it’.

"So there’s no doubt I’d be trying to put him under a fair bit of pressure defensively, because if you do that you increase his work rate and it takes away from his attack. We all know he’s a wonderful player, he’s a fantastic player, it’s going to take a lot to minimise what he does in the game but that’s what you have to do to the great players. You can never take them out of the game but you’ve got to try and find ways to minimise the ways they can impact the game against you.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 03: Nicho Hynes of the Blues looks on during a New South Wales Blues State of Origin squad training session at Coogee Oval on June 03, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
Nicho Hynes says he has no mental scars from his horror Blues debut last year.

While most of the talk ahead of Game I about Hynes has been around the calf injury he is currently nursing, there have also been questions raised about how he will handle the pressure after his horror debut. Hynes has spoken openly and honestly about the heartbreak of being dropped after his performance and admits it took time to get over it but vowed to use it as motivation to improve and grow as a player. And he'll get his shot at redemption in his ideal position in Game I.

Hynes told reporters this week that he doesn't have any mental 'scars' from his rough Blues debut and is focused on proving he belongs in the Origin arena on June 5. "You could use all those words (like redemption), but right now I just want to prepare the best way I can for this team and don’t leave any stones unturned,” he said.


"I’ve got a clearer role, and that’s nothing against what happened last year and the coaching staff or whatever, but I was a utility on the bench and didn’t know where I was going to come onto the field and when I’d come onto the field. I don’t have any scars and I’m not even thinking about that. Right now I just have to get my calf right and get on the field and train with the boys.

"Regardless of what happens, I want to do my job for the state and make people proud and the coaching staff for believing in me. If I can do that and we can play well then hopefully we can win the game and all those words like ‘redemption’ will take care of itself."

But veteran journalist Paul Crawley isn't so sure that he is well-equipped to deal with the Origin pressure, stating that before he went off against the Panthers he was being outplayed by his rival half. "What concerned me though was the first-half performance against the Panthers on the weekend where it was basically spruiked as an Origin selection shootout and he was up against Jarome Luai," Crawley said on NRL360.

"His first half was really forgettable, he came up with two kicks that went out on the full. He made a couple of other mistakes defensively and then he went off and you just thought to yourself ‘It’s got to play on his mind’.” You go back to last year, I think after Origin I, where Nathan got injured, (the Sharks) went down to Melbourne and he put in a pretty forgettable performance that night too.

"They were both billed as games where he was playing for that opportunity and as a last shootout heading into an Origin series — his first wearing the No.7 jumper — I know he says there are no mental scars but it has to add to the pressure."