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Hughes: Origin, Alfie and being sick pre-game

You may remember Mark Hughes as the classy centre who lead the nib Newcastle Knights to two premierships, or maybe as the leader of the magnificent foundation that bears his name.

However, what people don’t remember was the 2001 Origin series where Hughes starred at fullback.

Not known for being a No.1, Hughes somewhat unexpectedly earned a call-up to the Blues side, with nobody being more surprised than the man himself at his selection.

“We played the Dragons at Marathon Stadium…and after the game Joey was injured and he said ‘mate, I think you’re a big chance here tomorrow for the game’,” Hughes said.

“Up until that point no one had really mentioned me, and Joey was known for the odd porky pie, so I thought ‘righto Joey whatever’.”

With much of the selection talk surrounding team-mate Danny Buderus, Hughes was not in the slightest bit concerned about the naming of the side.

“The next day I went to the local league and watched West Newcastle vs. someone at Newcastle with Sean Rudder, Danny (Buderus) and a few of the boys, Danny was getting tipped to make his debut at hooker and that’s what we were sort of waiting for,” Hughes said.

“He was very highly tipped, but as it turned out Bedsy was overlooked for that 2001 series, and out of the blue I got selected at fullback.

“I had to rush home and get myself to Pelican airport, get down to Sydney and get myself ready for one hell of a week.”

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The series would go down to become one of the most famous of all time, with both teams each earning hard fought wins in the opening two games.

“It was really tough, we went to Lang Park for the first game and I was warned about the noise and the atmosphere, and it all just hit me so hard, and we ended up getting beaten quite convincingly (34-16),” Hughes said.

“Then we came to Sydney and there was a bit of drizzle rain and we had a really good win (26-8), so it was one-all going into the third game.”

Game three would go down in Origin folklore, with then-Queensland Coach Wayne Bennett selecting Allan Langar from the English Super League, with the man known as 'Alfie' coming back into the side at almost 35 years of age.

Langar dominated proceedings, with the Maroons winning 40-14 at ANZ Stadium in Brisbane.

“Langer just had all of Queensland behind him and they unfortunately got us,” Hughes said.

Hughes was a Blues standout throughout the series, despite battling an illness before one of the three games.

“I really was proud of how I handled myself,” he said.

“I was sick one day leading into a game, so I had a bit going against me.

“It’s a long day being crook at 4 or 5 in the morning knowing you’re playing at 8 o'clock that night.”