Cronulla coach Coach Craig Fitzgibbon has backed Nicho Hynes to make his State of Origin debut this year after the club's record signing helped mastermind an impressive 22-12 win over the Sydney Roosters on Friday night. Hynes stole the show for the Sharks after breaking the second half open with a weaving run to set up Blayke Brailey's 71st minute go-ahead try at Shark Park.
Briton Nikora iced the victory for Cronulla with a 78th minute try but it was the class of Hynes that had his coach and NRL commentators bubbling on Friday night. The playmaker's heroics came after he inked a contract extension last week that's reportedly worth around $7 million and will keep him at the Sharks until the end of 2029.
'GET IT OUT': NRL greats clash over contentious hip-drop incidents
'TOUGH TO WATCH': Mitchell Moses' sad confession about Luke Brooks
Cronulla lauded it as one of the most significant deals in the club's history, and it represents a huge upgrade on the 2022 Dally M Medal winner's current $600,000 per year salary. Hynes went some way to justifying the lofty price tag and reaffirming his importance to the Sharks on Friday night, after some late magic decided an arm wrestle against the Roosters.
Hynes was kept fairly quiet in the first half but as league great and Fox Sports commentator Steve Roach said he “set this game alight” in the second half. With the scores locked at 12-12 after Sharks winger Ronaldo Mutiltalo crossed for a 45th minute try, Hynes injected himself superbly into the contest, to settle matters late on.
The 26-year-old burst through a hole in the Roosters defensive line, fooling Roosters winger Daniel Tupou with a dummy and running 20 metres, before popping a ball to Blayke Brailey to cross for the game's defining try.
“When it’s 12-all you need your best players to come to the forefront and it’s Hynes with a mighty second half,” Roach said. That’s just the will to get your team home, that’s a captain’s knock.”
Sharks legend Michael Ennis described Hynes as "unbelievable" in the second half. Fellow commentator and league great Greg Alexander added: “Nicho was amazing in the second half and came up with the big play to break the game open.”
Watching Nicho Hynes guide the Sharks around is a sport in itself.
He floats from side to side and has become such a solid game manager. So impressive. #NRLSharksRoosters
— Lachlan McKirdy (@LMcKirdy7) April 14, 2023
@PhilGould15 Gus, Nicho Hynes Jeeps murdering it, but yet he's still not even being talked about as a NSW half. Would you pick him over Luai if you were coach?
— western lad (@dummyhalfrun) April 14, 2023
If Nicho Hynes doesn’t play 6 for NSW I’ll dead set start going for QLD. The bloke has Origin competitor written all over him #NRLSharksRoosters
— @brycy09 (@brycy09) April 14, 2023
Hynes' display will no doubt see calls grow for the versatile playmaker to be selected in NSW coach Brad Fittler's squad for this year's State of Origin series. Penrith's Jarome Luai is the incumbent Blues five-eighth but the Panthers star has not had the same sort of impact on matches in 2023 like Hynes or his Penrith halves partner, Nathan Cleary, who will almost certainly be selected as the NSW No.7.
Nicho Hynes strengthens case for Origin selection
The versatility of Hynes would also make him an attractive interchange option for Fittler's Blues, with Sharks coach Fitzgibbon adamant his marquee star is ready to take the next step in his career. “He’s fearless,” the Cronulla coach said after the game.
“He works at it and he doesn’t die wondering. He gets out there and goes for it, goes for it and he doesn’t stop going for it. He could handle that (Origin). He’s ready for that. It’s not up to me to make the selections, but I’ll tell you what, he’d go down swinging.”
Hynes admits it's a dream of his to represent NSW in State of Origin but when asked about it after the Roosters game, said his immediate focus was on helping the Sharks climb the ladder. Cronulla currently sit fifth after three wins and three losses to go with their round six bye, and have five matches to play before the Origin series opener on May 31 at Adelaide Oval.
“It’s been a dream of mine forever,” Hynes said when asked about the possibility of playing Origin. “I’ve been involved in the series for the last couple of years as 18th man, so I’d love to get just one jersey number smaller so I can run onto that Origin arena, which would be awesome.
“You can’t be up for selection if you’re not playing good football for the Sharks. All I’m worried about at the moment is winning games here. We’ve got another five weeks before another rest, and I think that’s when the Origin period is.
“My name can’t be in contention if I don’t play well for the Sharks, so all I’m worried about is rocking up every single day trying to get better and winning games here.”
Aside from the brilliance of Hynes, Cronulla's win also came off the back of ill-discipline from the Roosters. Trent Robinson's men gave away 14 penalties - an NRL record since the introduction of the six-again in 2020 - and had three players sent to the sin bin by Grant Atkins.
The referee sent Nat Butcher to the bin in the first half for a hip-drop tackle on Briton Nikora. He also binned Brandon Smith (high shot) and Victor Radley (professional foul) to sit out the dying stages of the game after Brailey's try.
"I didn't feel like we lost our way after that (Brailey try)," said Robinson, who criticised the bunker for failing to award a try to Roosters forward Lindsay Collins. "It was pretty clear from the angles that I saw that the ball was on the line. I thought that was a poor excuse (to support) the on-field decision. There were enough angles to say it was on the line."
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.