Canberra Raiders, Xavier Savage, Billy Slater phone call, Queensland Maroons, Charnze Nicholl-Klokstad, round 1, back, selection, squad
Raiders teenager Xavier Savage double-checked with team-mate and Maroons star Josh Papalii before calling back the phone number claiming to be Queensland manager Billy Slater.
Sure enough, the young full-back soon had his childhood hero on the line – and the man who made the Maroons’ No.1 shirt famous has told a stunned Savage that it could soon be his.
“I was trying so hard not to stutter. I couldn’t believe it,” Savage told foxsports.com.au.
“My hands were shaking and I kept telling myself not to say anything stupid.
Stream every game from every round of the 2022 NRL Telstra Premiership season live and ad-free during play on Kayo. New to Kayo? Try it free for 14 days now.
“I was trying not to be a little fanboy but I kept saying ‘thank you so much’ and I was like ‘shut up man’.
“It was unreal. I called mom right away and she freaked out.
Savage, who played three games in his first season in the NRL last year, is locked in a fascinating battle with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad to play full-back at Canberra.
Raiders manager Ricky Stuart will start Nicoll-Klokstad in the first round, but it’s only a matter of time before the 19-year-old rival becomes an NRL regular.
Slater sees potential for the Maroons in Savage and last month’s unexpected phone call lit a fire under the Cairns export.
“He was watching me and asking me how preseason went and he was just telling me to keep in mind to play and train like I wanted to be an Origin player,” Savage said.
“He said you didn’t have to make it a #1 priority but always had it on your mind, which really motivated me to work for this dream I’ve had since I was born. .”
Savage expects to start the season playing in the NSW Cup but said he relishes the challenge against New Zealand international Nicoll-Klokstad.
“It’s good. Charnze is a top class player, he knows the game very well and I’m just out of high school,” he said.
“I learn from Charnze every session and whoever Ricky thinks is the best for the job, I’m happy anyway. Whatever I can do for the team or the club, I’m happy.
“I feel like it’s going to be a good year for me, I’ve improved a lot over the last 12 months, fitter, stronger and just more comfortable wherever I’m on the pitch.
“The more I learn in each training session, the more comfortable I feel and the less stress there is on the pitch.
“When I came here I was trying to do too much, but now everyone is on board and that relieves me a lot more.”
Nicoll-Klokstad, 26, welcomes the young buck’s challenge and won’t be replaced without a fight.
“He’s a raw talent, he’s got a lot to learn and a lot to give to the game too, he’s got something you can’t teach and that’s speed,” Nicoll-Klokstad said.
“It’s his deadliest weapon and I won’t be able to train in it, so I have to stumble upon the things that I think work for me and the things that don’t require speed.
“He is learning, just like me and the competition is good.”
Nicoll-Klokstad revealed that Stuart had already confirmed he would start as a fullback in the first round.
“Yeah we had this conversation when I had Covid (during trials) I was home trying to rest and he just called me and let me know,” said Nicoll-Klokstad.
“It’s good to have the support of your coaches, it does wonders for your confidence going into the first round.
“I feel really good about my game. I’m really excited for this year. It was disappointing last year not having a lot of playing time (due to injury). In my opinion, I thought I started the year stronger than I had the last two years.
“So there’s a lot of excitement around the type of game we want to play this year and a lot of things fit my strengths.
MORE NRL NEWS
‘WILL BE GOOD TO PLAY AGAINST THEM’: Roosters’ enforcer responds to fury over Latrell comments
‘MUCH MORE TO GIVE’: Crichton ends code change conversation to reveal Roosters re-signing deal ‘is over’
‘SUPER EXCITED TO PLAY WITH HIM’: Keary pumped to partner Walker as Roosters return date revealed
“I can’t wait to give the team some momentum…it starts with you and I’m confident for now.”
Nicoll-Klokstad decided this summer to focus on his strengths instead of trying to reinvent the wheel in a bid to fend off Savage.
“During the off-season I was thinking about things that I could work on, you know,” Nicoll-Klokstad said.
“I always want to improve, so I took it upon myself to think about my game and my strengths are the things I want to build on,” he said.
“Guys like Tedesco and Tommy Turbo, those kind of people who are really good with their hands and their long, choppy balls – that’s not really my strength.
“My strength is my running game and my direction at the back. So it’s more about not straying from what works for me and for me, my running game comes first and my passing comes second.
“I’m really excited for 2022.”
Get all the latest NRL news, highlights and analysis straight to your inbox with Fox Sports Sportmail. Register now!!