Raiders hooker Josh McCrone. Photo: Getty Images
Ricky Stuart has transformed him into a super sub utility at Canberra Raiders, but Josh McCrone has revealed just how close his new coach came to handing him a shock NSW Origin debut.
During his final year as Blues coach in 2012, Stuart was searching for a replacement for the injured Kurt Gidley to play the No.14 role in Game I of the series.
Stuart phoned McCrone to inform him he was in serious contention, before opting for Manly's Jamie Buhrer who infamously played just seven minutes.
"I was at home watching telly with the missus and an unknown number came up, it was a nice end to the night,'' McCrone said.
"Ricky said he had to make a decision, that it was down to the last couple of blokes and I was a fair chance of playing.
"It didn't eventuate but it didn't matter, I got the confidence boost I suppose he desired.
"That was enough of a buzz for me, for someone to think that highly of you is pretty exciting.''
McCrone said he wasn't too disappointed when Stuart went with Buhrer, who hasn't played Origin again since his cameo.
But he said he'd feel far more comfortable being the 'jack of all trades' off the bench now he's playing the role full time at Canberra.
NSW coach Laurie Daley opted for Canterbury five-eighth Josh Reynolds when Gidley was again unavailable last year.
The bench utility role has become even more vital this season, with rules speeding up the game and the NRL's strict new concussion edict.
Former half McCrone said he'd feel far more comfortable playing the position in representative sides now he's playing there full-time at the Raiders.
He has played dummy half off the bench the last two seasons for Country Origin and was influential in last week's win at Newcastle, scoring a solo first half try.
"With the opportunity he's given me now to play off the bench, I think I'd feel more comfortable going into a rep team knowing I could do it, not the unknown,'' McCrone said.
"Especially with the concussion rules, you're silly not to carry someone who can cover a few positions on the bench.''
McCrone's spot in the halves has been assumed by Jack Wighton, but he insisted a shift to hooker wasn't inevitable when Stuart took over the reins this year.
"Not at all, he didn't put any pressure down,'' he said.
"If I didn't want to do it he wasn't going to force me. He said there's no use pushing me into something I don't want to do.
"I trusted his decision and it's worked so far, I backed what he said.
"It was the defensive workload I had the biggest fears of. In attack I thought I could hold my own at least.''
Suspension to Shaun Fensom has opened the door for Matt McIlwrick who will play his first NRL game of the year against Gold Coast at Canberra Stadium on Sunday night.
He has played mostly at hooker, but McCrone's shift means he will play at lock when he comes off the bench to give regular prop Paul Vaughan a rest.
Asked if replacing Fensom was a two-man job McIlwrick said: "It's a bit like that isn't it, an 80-minute player who tackles everything that moves.
"It's hard to replace Fenno, he's got such great leadership skills and Vaughany and I will do our best.
"Ricky [Stuart] has been putting people in different positions but the more Jack plays at five-eighth the better he'll get and Macca [McCrone] played awesome last week.''
Regular goalkicker Jarrod Croker will regain the role after relinquishing it with a leg cork the last two weeks.