It was a mere few weeks ago that Liam Martin’s chances to play in the 2023 Ampol State of Origin series were up in the air, given the disrupted season he has had for the Penrith Panthers.
A recurring hamstring injury had troubled the back-rower for several weeks until his return in Round 11, but as for resuming his role in Brad Fittler’s Westpac NSW Blues team after just two return games, the Temora terrier had other plans.
“It was obviously frustrating – the injuries, a few setbacks to start the year.”
“I would have liked to be in Origin (after returning from injury) but my first priority was getting right for Penrith, and if the opportunity did arise to get the call-up I was certainly looking forward to it,” Martin told nswrl.com.au.
“Here I am, lucky to be here.”
While Martin was pleased to be back in the NSW fold ahead of his seventh Origin appearance, he had no shortage of support to make it back for Game One – including from Fittler himself.
“He (Fittler) messaged me a couple of weeks ago just asking about the injury and when I'll be back. At that stage I didn't even know when I'd be back, so I said I'll ‘play it by ear’ and hopefully would have few games under my belt before the squad gets announced.
“I was just focused on getting back and playing good footy, and that’s all I did.”
And that focus earned Martin a spot on the bench for the series opener, a role which has seen Blues success in the past.
“In ‘21 when I had that role (from the bench), I actually enjoyed it,” he said.
He has even prepared himself in very similar fashion for the clash at Adelaide Oval, and it helped Penrith to a pair of strong wins against the Sydney Roosters and Brisbane Broncos.
“Ivan (Cleary) gave me the call (two weeks ago) and with ‘Spenny’ out (Spencer Leniu), wanted me to try and do his role, which I don't think anyone can because he's so explosive and such a good player. But I just did my best,” Martin said.
Martin will be joined by two of the three NSW debutants – Tevita Pangai Junior and Hudson Young – in the Blues’ forward pack next Wednesday night, and the 26-year-old is keen to see what they can bring to the side.
“We had Tevita at Penrith for a little bit back in ‘21. He was great to play alongside, he brought that aggression and physicality and we sort of fed off one another, so I’m really excited to play with him again,” Martin said.
“Hudson Young is such a quality player and he can do things that you look at and go ‘how did he do that?’ He’s so skilful so I'm really excited to see what he can do.”