You have skipped the navigation, tab for page content

"Pick your target and run it straight!"

Caitlan Johnston didn’t need much advice this week on how to handle her State of Origin debut.

The Belmont junior had played in big matches before, including the under 19s Origin fixture, where she was judged best on field in 2019.

So when NSW coach Kylie Hilder kept it simple for Johnston for her maiden game, she returned the favour in spades against a Queensland forward pack that more often than not struggled to keep up.

Johnston’s performance for NSW was match-changing at times and while Isabelle Kelly was a worthy winner of the Nelly Doherty medal, the Knights forward wasn’t far behind for the Sky Blues.

With around 13 of Johnston’s closest family in the stands, a couple of big hits in the first half and a 30-metre charge from the kick-off to start the second gave her the ultimate Origin debut.

“I did what I needed to as a forward, just grab the ball and run it straight, I didn’t want to try and overplay it,” Johnston said.

Johnston from the back fence

“I didn’t really know how I was going to feel but before we took the field I felt like it was surreal, like is this really happening. I wasn’t too nervous about it all.

“We had our targets in the game to run at and I think the result shows that. I thought our middles were outstanding and were probably the difference tonight.”

Johnston produced a similar performance for the Indigenous All Stars in February, leading from the front with strong carries and big hits before she injured her elbow in round one of the NRLW season.

Match Highlights: Sky Blues v Maroons

However, Newcastle’s inaugural signing is set to return to the club in July fresh off the Origin win and bringing with her the likes of Millie Boyle, Tamika Upton, Yasmin Clydsdale and Kirra Dibb, who all starred on Friday night.

Johnston was particularly happy for her Knights and All Stars teammate Dibb, who has endured a difficult two-year period of being overlooked for NSW before making a successful return at GIO Stadium.

“She had a lot of weight on her shoulders, her and Rach Pearson, but they handled the pressure pretty well,” Johnston said.

“She’s deserving for a spot in this team and hopefully she sticks around at Newcastle for a while too."

Dibb said being dropped by her state in 2020 had made her a better player and person after she scored a 40-metre solo try to light up GIO Stadium.

Dibb slices through to grab the lead

“The second you take this jersey off, the only thing you want to do is put it back on," Dibb said.

“Missing out for a couple of years was really hard but you work behind the scenes for as long as you can to get back to that jersey.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve changed much but I’ve matured as a footballer after a few more seasons in the NRLW, and an awareness of how to play for the players around me as well and their strengths.”