Nicho Hynes.
NSW halfback Nicho Hynes faces a restricted build-up to the State of Origin series opener. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS
  • rugby league

‘Untouchable’ NSW duo wait as Hynes sits out training

George Clarke May 29, 2024

NSW will lean heavily on an all-conquering touch-footy partnership forged a decade ago as new Blues halfback Nicho Hynes faces a restricted build-up to the State of Origin series opener.

Sporting running shoes instead of football boots, Hynes was an observer as the Blues hit the training paddock for the first time at the Blue Mountains School on Wednesday.

Blues staff expect Hynes, who is battling a lingering calf issue, will train on Thursday. 

The Cronulla halfback has been adamant the complaint would not hold him back in the build-up to Origin I in Sydney next Wednesday, when he will be patterned with Penrith five-eighth Jarome Luai.

Unlike his predecessor Brad Fittler, who was happy for the media to observe training, new Blues coach Michael Maguire asked journalists to leave NSW camp after the opening 15 minutes of Wednesday’s first session.

Halfback Nathan Cleary, who will miss the entire series with a hamstring tear, also observed from the sidelines. 

By keeping the Blues at arm’s length from the media, Hynes’ fitness will continue to be a hot topic until Maguire’s side step onto Accor Stadium next week.

Sydney Roosters five-eighth Luke Keary, who is part of Maguire’s extended squad, looms as the most likely replacement for Hynes. 

“He (Hynes) did a little bit, a lot of watching,” Blues back-rower Angus Crichton said on Wednesday. 

“But we obviously back the physio staff with their plan with him, and if he’s right he’ll play.

“‘Kez’ (Keary) is a pro, he’s been there in big games and grand finals and I think he’s really ready for it if the call comes for him.

Nathan Cleary (centre).
 The injured Nathan Cleary (centre) watched NSW training from the sidelines. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS 

 “I think Nicho will be sweet, but if he’s not I think Keary is a pretty handy replacement.” 

The conjecture over Hynes’ fitness leaves Maguire banking on the chemistry Hynes and Luai built as touch footballers playing for a NSW schoolboy team.

The duo have never played senior rugby league together, but they can take some comfort from the fact that they hit it off on the right note as touch footy players. 

As 14-year-olds, in a side that also included Bevan French, Jackson Hastings and Matt Dufty, Luai and Hynes enjoyed great success.

And, for the record, they beat Queensland. 

“I played touch footy with Nicho back in high school, we were untouchable back in those days,” Luai said. 

Jarome Luai.
 Jarome Luai is keen to join forces again with his former touch-footy teammate Nicho Hynes. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS 

“We represented NSW at school level in our touch days, so we’ve had some connection in the past, so it’s pretty cool to see where we are now on the biggest stage in our game.

“I’m pretty excited to rekindle what we had back then.

“But whatever happens (with his calf) we’ll take it one day at a time. He’s looking really good and I’m excited about that.”

As well as concerns over Hynes’ fitness, NSW have also taken a cautious approach with back-rower Liam Martin.

The Penrith forward has been named to start in the series opener, but was on a modified regimen as he battles a hamstring complaint. 

Maguire is blessed with back-row options should Martin fail to be ready for Origin I, with Manly’s Haumole Olakau’atu and Canberra ace Hudson Young on his bench.