HE IS one of the greatest coaches in rugby league history but Wayne Bennett may feel a little uneasy when Matt Ballin runs out for Queensland in State of Origin I on Wednesday night.
Big step up...Matt Ballin. Picture: Peter Wallis Source: The Daily Telegraph
Despite coming through Brisbane's system as a hot prospect from Kingaroy, Ballin was told by Bennett he was unwanted at the Broncos after the 2005 season.
Brisbane had Shaun Berrigan as their number one hooker and Ballin had yet to play first grade.
Bennett told the young hooker there was no room at the club for him - a moment that shattered Ballin, who had sought a long-term deal with the Broncos.
Ballin shifted to Manly and has since won a NRL title, a World Club Challenge and now a Queensland State of Origin jumper.
Staying true to form, Bennett was not offering much on Ballin yesterday but did say: "Matt will do real good."
Ballin entered the Queensland side on Saturday after Cameron Smith withdrew with a persistent elbow injury.
"I'm very excited, although obviously disappointed for Smithy," Ballin said yesterday.
"I've got my chance, so I can't wait. Everyone has been really enthusiastic and helpful towards me, so I'm having a great time with it all."
Ballin has the composure and skill to be a hit at Origin level, former Queensland winger Wendell Sailor said.
"Without Cameron Smith, it will make it a lot harder," Sailor said. "Matt Ballin has to step up but he will do the job. It's a good opportunity for Ballin and I am sure he will take it."
Former NSW coach Ricky Stuart said the loss of Smith would also affect Queensland fullback Billy Slater.
Slater and Smith have struck up an extraordinary combination at the Melbourne Storm.
Asked was losing Smith a big loss for Queensland, Stuart said: "It is a big loss for Billy Slater."
Ballin was on standby for Queensland last year and has been covering for Smith throughout the Maroons camp.
He has trained every session with coach Mal Meninga's team.