Former Kiwi UFC star James Te Huna has emerged as the sensei behind the man picked to put the fire into New South Wales' bid to reclaim State of Origin pride.
The 36-year-old Te Huna from small town New Zealand is working with the NRL pacesetting St. George Illawarra Dragons and his prized project is Jack de Belin - the middle forward who will make his Origin debut at lock on Wednesday night.
The 27-year-old De Belin, who made his first grade debut in 2011, told the Sydney Morning Herald that during the off-season, he decided to find a way to dominate rather than simply make tackles.
He turned to Te Huna, New Zealand's first UFC fighter, who is instructing the Dragons on the all-important wrestling techniques pivotal to league these days.
He took de Belin on a "deeper" journey, and the retired MMA exponent explained: "My method of attacking them is you come in with a big f****** sword, no shield, and you cut the person down.
"That's what you do. I've given him a nickname: I call him 'The Sniper'.
"When he puts someone in his sights, he takes them out. He nails them. He hurts them. He just takes them out."
In the SMH profile, former Dragons junior Alex McKinnon — whose NRL career was ended by a tragic spine injury — said de Belin had the best defensive technique he had ever seen even though he was a skinny junior.
"He makes a split-second decision to shorten his feet as he comes into contact; then that last-minute dip and power … It's perfect," McKinnon said.
"He's the perfect build for his position: massive base, big arse, big legs, big back and chest. He's a specimen."
De Belin's first visit to a State of Origin match was in a school choir singing the national anthem at ANZ stadium 10 years ago, but he is no choirboy anymore.
On his hitman reputation, de Belin said: "I'd never made a tackle above the hips until I came to the Dragons where they teach you to come together and wrestle. It's easy to get coached out of your natural tackling technique but I've managed to keep it there. Obviously, you can't tackle like that every single tackle."
Te Huna, from Darfield in Canterbury, was once sanctioned for stomping on an opponent after he had beaten him for the Cage Fighting world light heavyweight crown. He is not a man to mince words.
Te Huna reminded Queensland what they can expect in Melbourne this week when the 27-year-old de Belin leads the defence in coach Brad Fittler's new-look NSW team.
"He's got such strong posture, strong hip control, great head position … he slices people in half," Te Huna said.
"When he's about make the tackle he looks straight through them and tries to cut them in half."
De Belin isn't the only NSW debutant to have benefitted from tutelage under a UFC fighter. The South Sydney Rabbitohs rake, who will debut in the No9 jersey on Wednesday, grappled against Auckland-born UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker in a bid to improve his play this season.
It's clearly worked, with Cook being one of the NRL's breakout stars of the year.