Stephen Crichton, who had previously served as a ball boy at Suncorp Stadium during the 2020 State of Origin decider, will now have the opportunity to play on the same hallowed ground after being called up to replace the injured Latrell Mitchell in the New South Wales (NSW) squad. Despite initially being named as the 18th man, Crichton has now been given the nod to start at left centre, a position he also played in the series opener at Adelaide Oval. Mitchell’s calf injury has once again ruled him out of the clash, with the decision made by Blues coach Brad Fittler, Mitchell, and the medical staff.
Crichton’s promotion to the starting lineup comes after a similar situation occurred in Origin I, where he replaced Mitchell after the Rabbitohs star suffered an injury during NSW’s final training session before the game. Bulldogs playmaker Matt Burton, who had played for the Blues last year, will again fulfill the 18th man role in Brisbane. With Mitchell on a restricted training program, Crichton had been preparing himself as if he would play, knowing there was a chance he would step in if Mitchell was unable to overcome his injury. Fittler had explained this to Crichton when he called him up on Monday night.
Despite being a part of the NSW squad since 2020, Crichton did not make his Origin debut until last year due to Mitchell’s hamstring injury. Interestingly, in the COVID-affected 2020 season, Crichton and his Samoa teammate Jarome Luai had the privilege of being ball boys during the series decider at Suncorp Stadium. Looking back on that experience, Crichton expressed his excitement to return to the iconic venue. He vividly remembered being roasted by the passionate fans while performing his ball boy duties in 2020, and he admitted to feeling nervous for the players even though he was not participating in the game himself. The 20-year-old was simply grateful to be there and be around the team at the time.
Since then, Crichton has achieved significant success in his career. He helped the Penrith Panthers win two premierships and played a pivotal role in Samoa’s journey to the World Cup final at Old Trafford last year, thanks to his nerve-wracking extra-time field goal against England in the semi-final. Crichton played in all three State of Origin matches last year in Mitchell’s absence and has once again been asked to step up and replace him in the first two games of this year’s series. Despite the unexpected call-up, Crichton remains focused and ready to contribute to the team’s success. He understands the role of the 18th man and is prepared to do whatever it takes to support his teammates on the field.