Craig Gower says Dylan Edwards will make strong Origin debut for NSW as his hometown of Dorrigo cheers him on

MATT JONES
The Nightly
4 Min Read
From the Bellingen Dorrigo Magpies to the NSW Blues, it has been quite the journey for Dylan Edwards.
From the Bellingen Dorrigo Magpies to the NSW Blues, it has been quite the journey for Dylan Edwards. Credit: Getty Images

Inspirational since the under 6s.

That’s how Phil Beaumont described Dylan Edwards ahead of his State of Origin debut on Wednesday night.

Beaumont coached the Penrith Panthers fullback when he was running around as a kid for the Bellingen Dorrigo Magpies more than 20 years ago.

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Beaumont described the 28-year-old’s debut for the Blues as a “once in a lifetime moment” for the town of Dorrigo in northern NSW.

“This was his dream from five years old when I met him and he’s showed it can happen,” Beaumont said.

“He’s flying the flag for us in a community of 1000 people and to think he’s made it this far, it’s just mind boggling.

“We’re a small, struggling club with a small base to draw from and it’s amazing for Dylan to make it to State of Origin level. We’re so proud of him.”

The signs were there early that Edwards was something special.

He plays above his weight at the NRL level and he’s always done that.

Growing up in a tough country environment, Edwards was more than willing to take on he older kids which impressed his junior coach.

“It’s a good sign when they can play up an age group because it tests them. If you’re advanced, that’s the way to go,” Beaumont said.

“It’s a big difference from under 12s to under 13s. Even though it’s only one year, it’s a big jump.

“I coached him in under 12s, 13s and 14s for Bellingen Dorrigo Magpies and he was the same as he is now.

“He had the trademark step and swerve. He wasn’t the biggest or the strongest but he was the smartest by a long way.”

The rise of Edwards to State of Origin level has been a remarkable one.

Go back to 2019 when Edwards looked nothing like a first grader let alone a State of Origin player.

In round 3 that year he could hardly catch a ball.

Against Melbourne in Bathurst he dropped bomb after bomb and finished the night with six errors as the Panthers were smashed 32-2.

His confidence was shot to bits and a few weeks later he was dropped from the Penrith side.

Beaumont knew it wasn’t the end for his former protégé and, through hard work, Edwards rose to become a three-time premiership winner and Clive Churchill medallist.

He’s now the safest fullback in the game.

“The way he made it back didn’t surprise me,” Beaumont said.

“He’s always worked hard on his game, even when he was a youngster. He was always down the local park kicking goals until dark.

“He was never going to let anything beat him.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 06:  Craig Gower of the Panthers runs during the round 22 NRL match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Penrith Panthers at Telstra Stadium on August 6, 2006 in Sydney, Australia.    (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
Penrith great Craig Gower has no doubt Dylan Edwards will not falter on Wednesday night. Credit: Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Penrith premiership winning captain Craig Gower remembers when Edwards was at his lowest.

“It’s just great to see considering the amount of work he’s put in, certainly where he’s come from because he lost a bit of confidence early in his career,” Gower said.

“He wrestled it back and he’s turned into a sensational player.

“You look at Dylan’s game across the board and he’s so rock-solid.”

What makes Edwards’ State of Origin selection more impressive is that he’s usurped Blues and Australian captain James Tedesco to land the No.1 jersey.

When asked if it was harder for a Penrith player to be favoured over a footballer from the glamour Roosters club, Gower was diplomatic about it.

“There’s a bit more sway in town, let’s just say that,” he said.

“Sometimes there’s just a guy that’s playing at such a high level and you need to give them a crack.”

Edwards is just the third Penrith player to start at fullback in a State of Origin series.

The last was Matt Moylan in 2016 and the first was Rhys Wesser for Queensland in 2004.

“When Rhys was at his best, I’d say he and Dylan are on par. You could say they’re similar in a way,” Gower said.

“They back up and know where to be at the right time. They’re two great Penrith fullbacks.”

Dylan Edwards celebrates with daughters Bronte and Winter after the 2023 NRL Grand Final.
Dylan Edwards celebrates with daughters Bronte and Winter after the 2023 NRL Grand Final. Credit: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Gower, who played six Origins for NSW, said Edwards would rise to the challenge.

“I think he’ll run for 200-plus metres and will do his job,” he said.

“If can come up with a couple of big plays he’ll have done his job and I’ve got no worries about him handling the step up.

“The pressure is there but he’s been in big games and knows what pressure is.”

“I’d be telling him to play with the freedom he does at Penrith and he’ll be fine.

“It’s actually pretty simple stuff. The game doesn’t change, it just gets a bit quicker.”

Penrith teammate Jarome Luai will run out alongside Edwards for his eighth Origin match next week.

And Luai said it wasn’t hard to figure out why his Penrith teammate belongs at the highest level.

“Just look at the way he plays,” Luai said.

“The numbers he puts up every night don’t lie and it shows what he’s going to bring to the Origin arena.

“When the game gets tough, he gets better so that’s what he’s going to bring.”

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