Roosters pair Jake Friend and Lindsay Collins have been added to Queensland’s squad while AJ Brimson is preparing to fill Kalyn Ponga’s boots at fullback.
He doesn’t claim to ooze the cool of Kalyn Ponga but AJ Brimson has returned from injury armed with the speed and strength to replace the NRL superstar at fullback for Queensland next month.
Gold Coast talent Brimson missed the first 11 rounds of the NRL season when a back niggle progressed to a full fracture.
But the season’s delay allowed the 22-year-old to return noticeably stronger and faster, racking up seven tries, 13 line breaks and 30 tackle breaks in nine games to force his way into the Origin mix.
He was joined in the squad by Sydney Roosters pair and fellow Origin debutants in waiting Jake Friend and Lindsay Collins, the duo added on Wednesday by coach Wayne Bennett after their side’s NRL finals exit.
While Friend and Collins add further depth to the hooking and forward stocks, there is a shortage of backline options with incumbent Ponga (shoulder) among a host of big names to miss the November series.
It leaves Brimson in the box seat for a debut in Bennett’s return as coach.
Brimson was put through his paces by Bennett’s newly-appointed assistant Neil Henry and former Maroons coach-turned Brisbane mentor Kevin Walters in a Gold Coast training session with fellow squad members on Wednesday.
“Kalyn killed it on debut, but he’s a bit cooler than me,” Brimson said of the man he’s set to replace.
“I get very nervous. You wake up in the morning. Nerves. Then head to the field, get more nervous and in the sheds get extra nervous then again just before kick-off.
“I try to chill a bit more now and after the first tackle or run it’s sweet.
“But the last thing I’d want to do is let Queensland down; I love Queensland and I’d do everything I could to fulfil the jersey.”
Brimson said intense gym and sprint sessions analysing Usain Bolt’s technique with Titans physio Paul Scurfield had helped him return with a bang.
“He was pretty adamant about me gaining a bit of size and some speed … I trusted him and he said ‘I’ll get you back bigger, faster and fitter’,” he said.
“He was just flogging me in the gym.”
Brimson said it was surreal to pull on the Maroons training gear, particularly because his season was likely over without the long COVID-19 pause.
Queensland squad*: Jai Arrow, AJ Brimson, Moeaki Fotuaika, Phillip Sami (Gold Coast Titans), Edrick Lee, Hymel Hunt (Newcastle Knights), Valentine Holmes, Coen Hess (North Queensland Cowboys), Xavier Coates, Patrick Carrigan (Brisbane Broncos), Ben Hunt, Josh Kerr (St George Illawarra Dragons), Harry Grant (Wests Tigers/Melbourne Storm), Daly Cherry-Evans (Manly Sea Eagles), Jake Friend, Lindsay Collins (Sydney Roosters). *Additional players will be added following NRL finals matches.