Beetson a guiding light for NSW's James Tamou
As he runs onto a hostile Suncorp Stadium in Wedneday night's Origin series opener, it will be the Maroons' greatest hero Arthur Beetson that NSW prop James Tamou draws on for inspiration in his quest to "change history".
While Queensland will pay tribute to Beetson - the godfather of State of Origin - by retiring his famous No 11 jersey in the 100th match since the concept began, Tamou hopes to also honour the memory of his late mentor.
And the best way to do that is by starring in a historic Blues win.
"Every time I hear his name something lights up inside me, and his name will be spoken quite a lot on Wednesday night, so I am definitely going to take charge of my words and make sure I give it my all," Tamou said of Beetson.
The 25-year-old's relationship with Beetson goes back more than a decade to just after Tamou had moved to Sydney from New Zealand with his parents Dave and Pippa in 2002.
Beetson recruited Tamou to Sydney Roosters after spotting him playing for Paddington Tigers and Matraville High, and he was the club's under-18s Jersey Flegg player of the year. But it wasn't just his football ability that Beetson was interested in. Tamou said the pair formed a close relationship off the field.
"Arthur took me under his wing and took me through my paces a bit with footy and taught me a few things," Tamou said.
"I remember when I came to the Roosters, he tried to get me a job and he always took care of me. He would take me out for lunch and ask about what was going on at home and things like that.
"I will always have him to thank for that and I will always remember what he did for me. I honestly don't know if I would be here [playing Origin] if it wasn't for him."
Tamou wasn't born when Beetson landed the punch on his Parramatta team-mate Mick Cronin in the inaugural match in 1980, but he is fully aware of the impact the then 34-year-old had on Origin.
"He is the big reason State of Origin is what it is," Tamou said. "When State of Origin first started, not many people bought into it, but when he was on the paddock, throwing his weight around and doing what he did for rugby league, everyone saw that and wanted to be a part of it, and wanted to watch it.
"I have still got some footage on a DVD at home of him, and I chuck it on every now and again to watch. It is such an honour and privilege to be a part of the 100th State of Origin game. I will always be grateful for what he did for my career."
The North Queensland international now realises he almost threw all of that away last season when he was suspended from Origin II after being arrested for drink driving in Townsville the weekend after the Blues had won the opening game at ANZ Stadium.
Despite playing in the series decider, Tamou was excluded from a NSW team camp in January and has had to convince Blues coach Laurie Daley to stick by him this season.
Tamou believes his banishment has given him a greater appreciation of the Blues jersey.
"It was very tough to watch that game last year," he said. "A couple of times I just had to get up and walk out because I couldn't watch because I felt bad about not being on the field there will the boys.
"I didn't finish watching that game and that memory really hurts, It is always going to stay with me every chance I get to play for NSW, and I am going to look back and use it as motivation, because I don't ever want to be in that situation again".
Having lived in Palmerston North until the age of 13, Tamou never thought he would have the opportunity to play Origin, and admits he is continuing to learn more about the concept's history with each game he has played since debuting for NSW in 2012.
On Tuesday, after the NSW team was announced, Tamou publicly thanked former Blues skipper Ben Elias for a motivational speech and he said that hearing from former Origin greats such as Steve Mortimer, Wayne Pearce, Paul Sironen, Steve Roach and Brad Fittler had instilled an even greater desire to end Queensland's eight-year winning streak.
"I was pumped after Benny Elias had his little spiel," Tamou said. "To mingle with all of those players and ex-captains was unreal, and straight away you get that feeling that you are ready to play.
"Every time they talk, every time they open their mouths and talk about their past situations with State of Origin, most of it has been pretty positive, and to hear about how they won gets me so excited to play and to have this opportunity.
"When they speak it is like they flick a switch inside of me. I am raring to go and I want to experience what they experienced. I want a memory of winning a series, and I want to come back to those type of functions when I am older and talk about how we changed history and stuff like that."
Sydney Morning Herald