Hynes relishes State of Origin reunion with Trbojevic
It's been obvious to Nicho Hynes for quite some time just how elite a rugby league talent Tom Trbojevic is. Fifteen years, to be precise.
The pair will become State of Origin teammates for the first time in Wednesday's series opener, more than a decade after meeting as budding footballers during primary school.
"We started our time together in under-12s, when we played for the Sydney North schoolboys team," Hynes recalled.
"Then we made the NSW under-12s team together.
"Then again in high school, under-15s Sydney North and NSW again."
The pair made a habit of running into each other, eventually linking up in Manly's Under-20s team and storming into that competition's grand final in 2015.
But from there, Trbojevic and Hynes' careers diverged dramatically.
The former became an NRL mainstay in the autumn that followed, while the latter shipped off to Far North Queensland.
There, he toiled away for two seasons with Queensland Cup side the Mackay Cutters in search of an elusive NRL opportunity.
Hynes didn't sign his first fully fledged NRL deal with Melbourne until May 2019, by which point his ex-teammate Trbojevic was already a State of Origin representative.
"He transitioned a lot earlier than I did, he played first grade at 19 and I had to take a bit of a longer route," said Hynes, who has finally made good as Cronulla's captain.
At Adelaide Oval on Wednesday night, the pair will play together for the first time since the Sea Eagles days.
"It's cool that we're back together again and have gone full circle," Hynes said.
"We've been hanging out quite a bit this week. It's good to catch up and talk about some old memories. It's good to be on his team rather than against him."
In the days before the Origin sides were named, Trbojevic was the underdog - for once.
While Hynes had been favoured to earn his NSW debut this year, the Manly fullback's fitness threatened to scupper his hopes of an Origin recall.
Hynes is the last person to doubt Trbojevic though, and has never envied his mate's on-field rivals - be they Sydney schoolkids or Queensland Origin veterans.
"He's always been a freak," Hynes said, reflecting on Trbojevic's journey.
"He was just so strong and fast, big.
"He probably bloomed a lot earlier than a lot of us. Big kid. He's always been the same nice, caring guy as well.
"He was always a step above everyone."