Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy has backed Nicho Hynes to take the NSW Blues' number seven jersey for Game 2 of the 2023 State of Origin series, despite his club belting Hynes and the Sharks 54 points to 10 on Sunday afternoon.
Bellamy, speaking post-game, said the body of work Hynes has put together over the past 18 months should alleviate any concerns over his ability to shine in the Origin arena, with Bellamy not able to understand criticism directed at Hynes based on an out of position cameo off the bench in Game 1.
"His team got beat by a pretty big score today, but that wasn't all Nicho's fault," Bellamy said on Hynes during his post-game press conference.
"I don't understand [the talk around him not being selected at number seven for Game 2]. He is the Dally M winner. He was on the bench for New South Wales last game. He only came on for five or six minutes or whatever it was. It's hard to sit there for 75 minutes and then try to make an imprint, that's not easy to do.
"To me, with Nathan [Cleary] out, I'd be picking him every day of the week. I think he has done enough over the last 18 months to prove he is an Origin player.
"If it was me, and it ain't, I'd be picking him every day of the week."
"I'd echo that," Welch said.
"You look at Cronulla's rise, particularly last year with how well they have gone. He is a great person, a great game manager and a like-for-like almost for Cleary and a big reason why Cronulla [have been doing] so well.
"He is a good friend of us and a good friend of everyone at the club. I hope he gets picked. You can't judge him on that last game where he played in the centres for seven minutes or whatever. I think he is a great player."
Hynes, a former teammate of Welch's during his time at the Storm, is likely to be up against Adam Reynolds, who has guided the Brisbane Broncos through an incredible start to the season, and Mitchell Moses, who replaced Cleary last time the Panthers' gun was injured and couldn't play Origin in 2021.
Hynes was well below his best on Sunday, with coach Craig Fitzgibbon suggesting Hynes needed a stronger team performance around him.
The coach admitted Hynes wasn't at his best though.
"Probably not at his best," Fitzgibbon said.
"He didn't have much support there today though, and you need to have a strong team performance to play well, so I don't think the team performance was strong enough to help him."
Fittler has been non-committal at this stage on which way he will go in the halves, and Monday's Kings Birthday game between the Parramatta Eels and Canterbury Bulldogs could give Moses, who was reported to be "in the box seat" last week, a final opportunity to put himself in the spotlight.
With the Blues' side to be picked on Tuesday, the three-way race is no closer to being solved, but Fitzgibbon said Hynes' performance - where there have been suggestions he tried too hard in a bid to be selected for Game 2 - wasn't down to Fittler's lack of assurances over his position in the team for what will serve as a must-win clash at Suncorp Stadium.
"That's the life of an elite player. You turn up and get your job done, and usually, playing strong footy seems to take care of most of those decisions. There are some strong candidates there all playing well, but that's just life and pressure in a professional sport. Circumstances can't always go your way," the Cronulla coach said.
"He has been playing strong for a long time, so again, it would have been handy for him to have a stronger team performance so he could shine, but that didn't happen. He has a strong body of work behind him."
Origin 2 will be played on Wednesday, June 21 in Brisbane.