At 20 years of age and 13 games into his NRL career Cowboys colossus Coen Hess has a message for those who are questioning whether he could handle an elevation into Queensland's Origin team in 2017: ‘Throw me in and let's find out’.
Near enough to man of the match in North Queensland’s elimination final win against the Broncos last September, Hess has played all but five minutes of his past three games, stepping into the massive hole left by the suspension of Jason Taumalolo in the starting side over the past two weeks.
Although he has run for more than 100m in both of those past two games, it is the moments in games where Hess produces plays most players could never consider that marks him as a special talent destined for higher honours.
With his team leading by four against the Titans heading into the final quarter on Saturday night, Hess used pure strength to push past four Gold Coast defenders to extend his side’s lead and then delivered something similar to put the result beyond doubt 10 minutes later.
Cowboys coach Paul Green correctly cautioned about elevating Hess into the game's toughest stage before he is ready, but the Mt Isa monster didn’t appear daunted when the prospect of an Origin debut in May was raised.
With the retirement of Corey Parker, long-term injury to Matt Scott and the likes of Sam Thaiday and Jacob Lillyman entering the latter stages of their career, there is an opportunity for Maroons coach Kevin Walters to look closely at the next generation of Queensland forwards – of which Hess is a leading contender.
“I'm not too sure to be honest. I guess I'd find out if I was thrown out there,” Hess said when asked whether he would be ready for an Origin call-up.
“Growing up, I always dreamed of playing Origin and [selection] is out of my control, but my focus at the moment is just playing good consistent footy for the Cowboys.
“Just to get in the [Emerging Origin] camp [in February] and meet all the coaching staff and Kevvie himself and a few of the other up and comers it made me feel really comfortable.
“It's great what they do with that Emerging Origin camp.”
The influence of co-captains Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott – not to mention a try on debut – helped Hess to feel comfortable in NRL company when he made his maiden first grade appearance a week after turning 19 against the Warriors in 2015.
He played a further eight NRL games last season and in 2017 has become an integral part of the Cowboys pack, encouraged by Green to assert his influence more and more on the fortunes of his team.
“Obviously I've only played 13 games, so still learning the ropes a bit and I can still improve in a few areas, but each game I get a bit more confident in myself,” Hess said.
“Greeny spoke to me about being a bit more confident in myself and getting my hands on the ball a bit more.
“It was always my dream growing up to play in the NRL and then I did achieve it pretty early on to be honest. That's also a credit to the coaching staff and my development right through from juniors.”
Joking that he'd hate to have to pay Hess's food bill each week, Green described Hess as “tailor-made for Origin” when the time is right, while Thurston said the more involved he gets in games the more the Cowboys will benefit.
“You can tell by his performances that he's pretty cool, calm and collected,” Thurston said.
“He started off the bench obviously and with a couple of the boys going down he's slotted into that right second row and is doing a really good job for us.
“He's fairly mature for a young bloke, knows how to read the game and the more ball we can get him in certain situations the better he'll get.
“We all know the potential that he has and certainly he's got a big future in front of him.”