Nanai pinching himself ahead of NRL prelim

·2-min read

Walking in to his media engagement on Wednesday, North Queensland rookie Jeremiah Nanai couldn't hide his smile with the second-rower and teammates just one win away from the NRL grand final.

He had just returned from his first training session since the Cowboys edged Cronulla 32-30 in an extra-time thriller in Sydney on Saturday, still abuzz before the club plays their first home preliminary final against either Parramatta or Canberra on Friday week.

This time last year Nanai was heading into his first NRL off-season after playing four games in the back-end of their campaign, debuting in round 22.

Twelve months on, 22 games, 18 tries and a winning State of Origin series debut later, the 19-year-old is absolutely smitten.

"It's been one hell of a year for myself," he said on Wednesday.

"I didn't expect the year to be like this - for most of the boys to.

"Everyone doubted us and we proved to ourselves - to everyone - that we're a top eight team.

"We've got this far. Hopefully we can get the win next weekend and play on the big stage."

Nanai is one of a handful of booming youth that has propelled one of the wooden-spoon favourites to a home crack at the big dance.

Reuben Cotter, Murray Taulagi and Tom Dearden all earned Queensland representative call ups, Reece Robson is now one of the form hookers of the competition, and Scott Drinkwater electric in the fullback jersey.

But in terms of what stood out for Nanai this year compared to the last was their gruelling pre-season.

He said they had numerous curveballs thrown at them by coaching staff, beginning with spontaneous runs up Townsville's Castle Hill and endless tackling drills.

That mental stamina ensured two last-gasp wins this year, one over Manly and more recently their qualifying final nail-biter over the Sharks.

But Nanai's 2022 highlight - so far - is his maiden Origin appearance alongside a number of Cowboys teammates. He said that experience was essential before a grand final qualifier in front of their fans.

"It's helped me a lot," he said.

"Having great players in Origin camp, I learned a lot from the coaches too.

"It's going to be an amazing atmosphere next week. Hopefully everyone comes down and supports us and gets behind us."