Tonight James Tedesco will take to the Melbourne Cricket Ground for his third State of Origin series. When he laces up his boots and pulls on the beloved sky blue jersey this time however, he will be looked at as a leader. In a new look blues squad, Tedesco will take the field with 11 debutants making him one of the experienced players in his team. At only 25 years of age and just over 100 NRL games under his belt, it is a testament to the player he is today. James wears the NSW emblem over his heart proudly but it means so much more to him than just the pride in his state. That emblem, the jersey and his representative title symbolises everything it is that makes James Tedesco the player we love. As he runs onto the green grass in Melbourne, the roars surrounding him will be deafening and the blood will be pumping viciously and for 80 minutes full attention will be directed to the enemy in Maroon. However, in the lead up to kick off, James was able to reflect with Top 8, Bottom 8. He spoke about his early days and how he overcome all his obstacles to get him to where he is now.
Q) To start things rolling, we’ll go with a small question. How old were you when you first started playing rugby league? How soon after starting did you know you wanted to play for the rest of your life if possible?
A) I was five when I first started playing rugby league.
Obviously as a kid you just play for fun with your mates – I didn’t have aspirations of playing professionally until I started making junior rep teams, maybe around the age of 10-11, but even then it’s not something you’re thinking about too much.
When you’re a kid the idea of playing in the NRL is one of those things you dream about but don’t expect to happen. You watch your heroes on TV and imagine yourself being there one day, but how?
Things started gaining momentum after I was lucky enough to be selected for the Australian Schoolboys team in 2010. I knew from there I was going to get a shot and if I worked hard enough I could get there.
Q) You’ve had quite an amazing journey in the NRL already but let’s go back to the beginning. What was it like making your debut?
A) Making my debut was awesome.
As a 19-year-old I ran out for the Wests Tigers, my junior club, in front of a packed Leichhardt Oval – you really can’t ask for much more than that!
Unfortunately I did my ACL during the game so things turned upside down pretty quickly, but I still remember very clearly how excited I was that day.
Q) Unfortunately, injuries are inevitable in rugby league and you have been a real victim to that. What motivated you to keep going despite your struggles and obstacles to overcome? Did it ever seem too hard?
A) I was always very motivated – I didn’t want to do anything else so I always knew I’d come back.
I really enjoy playing footy so it was just a matter of keeping at it and going through the process.
Teammates, friends and family played a big role in supporting me through rehab, which can be quite draining at times physically and mentally. I guess I’ve always had a positive mindset too which helped – you’ve got to just put your head down, do the work and stay patient.
Q) As a football player with a spotlight shining on them every day, what keeps you mentally strong and so grounded?
A) Being mentally strong I think comes back to having a belief in your ability and then backing yourself.
Having very supportive family and friends helps a lot with staying grounded – I try not to get too high or too low after a game, win or lose, and they are the same.
There’s always another game the week after to get ready for.
Q) On the field you are considered one of the quickest, fiercest competitors. Off the field however, you’re quite humble and reserved. How important is it to keep yourself level headed during the difficult times that rugby league can provide?
A) Very important.
There can be a lot of external pressure from the media and fans, which has only increased with the advent of social media and fully dedicated NRL channels in addition to newspaper coverage.
The key for me staying level headed is trying not to get too caught up in the praise or the criticism.
Q) It is no secret that NRL fans are a passionate group. Have you had any funny fan encounters? What do the fans mean to the players?
A) All the time! Somebody told me they named their dog Teddy after me which was quite funny.
It’s good fun – the fans are the lifeblood of our game, I really enjoy interacting with them.
Q) What was it like to play all 3 State of Origin games last year? Is that a highlight of your career? Describe the feeling of running onto the field in the sky-blue jersey for the first time in 2016.
Beating Queensland at Suncorp Stadium in front of a full house of Queenslanders was something I’ll always remember. I scored a try as well, which was a special moment for my family.
Unfortunately the series didn’t go our way but that’s the way it goes – we are desperate to turn that around this year.
My debut was at ANZ Stadium the year before last. Rugby league moves very quickly but there were 80,000 fans there on the night and I’ll always remember running out to a sea of Blatchy’s Blues fans screaming out for us.
Origin is like that – the theatre is amazing but things go a million miles an hour. Each game I try to take a moment to soak it in before ripping in with the boys.
Q) In one word, describe your NRL career.
A) Resilient? Ha ha lets go with that.
In that moment tonight, while James stands on the field with his team mates ready for battle he will be flooded with emotion. Every emotion one can possibly feel for the game. He will feel the motivation the roar of the crowd provides, the exhilaration as the blood pumps through his legs, the frustration in the inevitable moments of pressure and the brotherhood for his fellow warriors. A humble young man setting an example for aspiring athletes across the country. He will stand tall and proudly underneath the goal posts, the number 1 shining on his back. Children will watch on in awe as he glides across the field with the ball buried so protectively under his arm. Tonight, New South Wales will thank all of our lucky stars that many years ago a seed was planted in the heart of a young boy. From the first time he held a football at the age of five to his selection for the 2018 State of Origin opener - this is, our blues fullback.