FRINGE Knights first-grader Josh Mantellato is preparing to play the game of his life for NSW Residents against Queensland in the State of Origin III curtain-raiser.
Mantellato was one of four Newcastle players picked for the Blues Residents - alongside Matt Hilder, Peter Mata'utia and Kevin Naiqama - in a team chosen from NSW Cup ranks to be coached by veteran Lakes United mentor Rip Taylor.
The 26-year-old winger has played just one NRL game, scoring a try and kicking three booming goals in a 25-18 loss to South Sydney five weeks ago, before being sidelined for a month with a rib-cartilage injury.
His manager is in talks with the Knights about a contract extension and Mantellato's preference is to stay with Newcastle.
But he also accepts that opportunities will be limited behind the Knights' representative back three - Darius Boyd, Akuila Uate and James McManus - and Wednesday night will be an ideal chance to advertise his wares on a big stage.
"It comes down to Wednesday night," Mantellato said yesterday.
"If you play a wow of a game, people might talk about you and show a little bit of interest. So I'm pretty much approaching this game as one of the most important games I've ever played, really."
"I'll have a good preparation this week and give it a fair crack."
Mantellato was hopeful that Naiqama's decision to sign with Penrith for the next two seasons would create a vacancy in the pecking order behind Boyd, Uate and McManus.
"Those three guys are all representative players and are obviously doing a pretty fair job," he said.
"I enjoy Newcastle and I'm familiar with all the playing group there.
"Given my age, moving to another club might not be ideal for me personally.
"If there was a permanent position elsewhere, I'd definitely consider it."
Mantellato's agent, Sam Ayoub, said he had been negotiating with Wayne Bennett and officials and was waiting for a reply.
He said there had been "a few nibbles" from rival clubs but was hopeful the Knights would offer Mantellato a two-year deal in their full-time squad.
"But at this point I'm just waiting to see what they come up with," Ayoub said.
The sell-out Origin crowd of 80,000 should dwarf the 13,225 turnout for Mantellato's first-grade debut on a rainy Saturday night at the same venue.
The 196-centimetre late bloomer, who juggles his football commitments with his work as a personal trainer on the Central Coast, was eager to experience the traditional interstate passion.
"All those years of watching Queensland win, hopefully the Blues win the main game, and if we can play our part on the night as well," he said.