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Jennings out to prove he is Origin-ready

By Steve Jancetic 18/04/2009 11:31:28 AM Comments (0)

Having survived the audition, Penrith centre Michael Jennings now wants the opportunity to prove he can handle the real thing with a NSW jumper in the opening State of Origin game next month.

In what shaped as a dress rehearsal for the June 3 contest at Melbourne's Etihad Stadium, Jennings more than held his own as he went up against Brisbane and likely Maroons centre Justin Hodges on Friday night.

Along with skipper Petero Civoniceva, the pair dragged the Panthers back into the contest with a second half rally before Hodges and the Broncos walked away with a 38-18 win thanks to a late avalanche of points.

A look at the statistics would seem to indicate Hodges gave his opposite number a bath - his team won by a handsome margin, the Broncos ace ran for more than twice as many metres (187 to 88) and he outscored Jennings two tries to one.

But it was the flashes of brilliance Jennings produced - like the blinding speed to set up Shane Elford's try or the instinct to back up Civoniceva for his own four-pointer - that have many believing he deserves his crack at Origin football.

"It's pretty frightening going up against him," Jennings said of Hodges.

"I rate him as the best centre, just quality.

"I just tried to handle him and I thought I did an okay job and I'm pretty happy about that.

"I didn't really worry about the Origin (talk) too much, it didn't faze me. I just wanted to go out there and get the two points.

"It's (Origin selection) been at the back of my head for a while but I don't really worry about it - NSW is really a bonus through my performances - I'd rather win the two points and perform for the Panthers than worry about that stuff.

"I know there's a lot of talented centres out there that can fill that spot."

Despite Jennings being still two days shy of his 21st birthday, coach Matthew Elliott claimed he had no concerns over his young charge handling the increased scrutiny.

Jennings is just one of a number of young local juniors Elliott is looking to build the club around heading into the future, with he and the likes of Lachlan Coote, Wade Graham, Masada Iosefa and Tim Grant the key building blocks.

"Jenno's one of the most unaffected kids you'd ever want to meet in your whole life," Elliott said.

"He played through injury (against the Broncos) and he had an injury and put a try on - he's a fair player."

Jennings said he played most of the second half with a badly corked thigh but denied he was in any doubt for Monday week's home game against Gold Coast.

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