Nathan Merritt admits he'd virtually given up all hope of ever playing for NSW before receiving a phone call from Blues coach Laurie Daley on Tuesday morning.
The 30-year-old South Sydney winger was called into the team to face Queensland in Brisbane next Wednesday after Blake Ferguson was stood down on Monday night.
The Canberra winger was charged with indecent assault following an alleged incident at Cronulla nightspot on Sunday night.
Merritt has been knocking at the door for Origin selection for several years and felt his chance had passed despite having scored 148 tries in 213 NRL matches.
"I just thought I'd never get the chance and I am grateful for it," Merritt said at the NSW team hotel just an hour after finding out he was in the side.
"I thought the opportunity had gone and I'd like to thank Laurie for giving me the chance and now I can show what I have got.
"But it's about keeping the shirt now and putting my best foot forward."
Daley was initially unable to contact Merritt after deciding he was the right man to replace Ferguson as he was in a pilates session.
But when he did finally get the news he said the first person he was able to share it with was his father.
"I smiled so much it hurt and it was a moment I will always remember," he said.
"As I walked out to training, my old man was walking in and he knew more than me. We embraced and cuddled, then I told my fiancee ... they were all very, very happy."
Although delighted at being given the chance on the biggest stage, Merritt said he felt sympathy for the plight of Ferguson and said the 23-year-old needs proper help to overcome his problems.
"Hopefully Blake is being surrounded by the right people and they try to keep him calm," he said.
"He needs to get his mind back on the job, get away for a while, freshen up and then see where he goes from there."
Merritt also said he sensed no signs of a lack of morale amongst his new teammates when he walked into the team hotel in Coogee for the first time.
"They were all playing games and laughing around with each other. I didn't detect any problems."
"I am looking forward to getting to know them all."
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