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The Inglis pep talk that put Coates on the Origin path

Words of encouragement from his idol Greg Inglis helped convince Xavier Coates to stick with rugby league and gave him the self-belief to fulfil a dream of playing for the Maroons.

Coates, who will again line up on the wing for Queensland in Origin II on Wednesday night at ANZ Stadium after a stunning debut in Adelaide last week, was considering quitting the game after struggling to make junior representative teams.

The Port Moresby-born teenager had aspirations of representing Papua New Guinea at the Olympics or Commonwealth Games and with a string of Queensland school athletics records to his name former Kumuls star Marcus Bai contacted the PNG Sport Federation on his behalf.

Bai's son and Coates's brother are close friends and school-mates at Marymount College on the Gold Coast - where another former Melbourne Storm star, Matt Geyer, teaches - and the 1999 premiership-winning teammates were concerned Coates could be lost to the game.

Enter Inglis, who was the Queensland captain and had begun his illustrious career playing alongside Geyer at the Storm.

"I just basically said to him that if you want it you just have to put your head down and work hard because with the amount of talent you have got you could be playing Origin - and that is what he is doing now," Inglis told NRL.com.

"He wasn't really wanting, I guess, to go to the next level. There were obviously people in front of him and whatnot but he is getting there now.

Xavier Coates playing for the Maroons under 18 team.
Xavier Coates playing for the Maroons under 18 team. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

"He is only a young kid with a lot of talent and a big body, and if he stays injury-free he will be there for a very long time."

Bai has also had an influence on Coates's rapid rise from Currumbin Eagles under 17s to become a regular in Brisbane's NRL team and representative player at international and Origin level before his 20th birthday.

After witnessing the development of Coates from a young age through the relationship between their families, Bai tipped PNG Kumuls coach Michael Marum about him in 2018 and he made his Test debut against Samoa last year.

However, Bai initially tried to help Coates, who earlier this season clocked 36.9 km/h in a match against Newcastle, to pursue an athletics career after his father Michael told the former Kumuls winger he wanted to represent Papua New Guinea.

"Xavier was very keen and Michael [Coates] and I spoke about it so I made some phone calls to try and get the PNG Sports Federation to look at him," Bai said.

"I was very disappointed that nothing came of it because that was the dream that he wanted to achieve, but it didn't happen and he concentrated on rugby league instead.

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"He nearly gave it up but thanks to the Geyer family … Matt Geyer and Belinda Geyer helped him and helped Michael to motivate him. He just lost a bit of interest and Michael discussed it with them.

"Matt pulled some strings to get Greg Inglis to talk to him and Greg told him to stay in rugby league.

"For Greg Inglis to speak to a kid like that is mountains and mountains of motivation right there. He really worked hard in his training and I am just so glad for Xavier and for his family."

Coates, whose mother Edith is from Lokea in the Gulf Province, is the third Papua New Guinean to play State of Origin after Adrian Lam and Neville Costigan.

According to Marum, the interest in the only nation in the world where rugby league is the official sport has reached an all-time high after centre Justin Olam helped Melbourne win the grand final and Coates starred Queensland’s 18-14 Origin triumph against NSW.

"It has been a good period for us because of Justin and Xavier," the Kumuls coach said.

Xavier Coates leaps high to score during his NRL debut.
Xavier Coates leaps high to score during his NRL debut. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

"There are a few Blues supporters around but it's mostly Queensland because of Xavier. My only concern is that Mal Meninga might pick him in the Kangaroos squad for the World Cup."

Bai said Coates would inspire others in Papua New Guinea to believe they could play at the highest level.

"Xavier has not just done himself and his family proud, but the whole of Papua New Guinea proud and stories like this are massive, massive news for Papua New Guineans - and especially for our young kids," Bai said.

“We are crazy about rugby league, we love rugby league, we will talk about rugby league from morning to afternoon to late in the night and to have a story like Xavier playing State of Origin, the papers will be passed on from one person to another.

“They will be all barracking for Queensland to win the series with one of PNG’s sons, as they call Xavier up there. Xavier will inspire all of the young kids in Papua New Guinea to want to be like him."

After scoring the try that put Queensland ahead after trailing 10-0 at half-time, Andrew Johns said Coates reminded him of Inglis, whom he had grown up idolising, along with former Kumuls captain David Mead.

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"Physically he looks like Greg Inglis but in that era of dominance when Queensland needed to score a try it was always Inglis who scored and I reckon Xavier Coates could be a similar player," Johns said told NRL.com’s Inside the NRL on Monday.

"He can just score a try at the right time."

Coates has been given the nickname “Little GI” by Broncos teammates but Inglis urged him to be himself and not to feel burdened by comparisons.

Xavier Coates playing for Papua New Guinea.
Xavier Coates playing for Papua New Guinea. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

"People were always comparing me to Mal [Meninga]," Inglis said.

"The thing I always say is don’t listen to the comparisons. I just want Xavier to go out and really knuckle down and prove himself. I want him to just make himself and his family proud, and make a great career out of rugby league."

 

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