Watch and learn – Hampton
By Tony Webeck, Chief Queensland Correspondent, NRL.com
Cowboys recruit Ben Hampton has grown up surrounded by rugby league royalty but admits he was "starstruck" in meeting new North Queensland teammate Johnathan Thurston for the first time.
Following his Four Nations campaign with the Kangaroos, Thurston returned to Cowboys training last week where he met new recruits such as Hampton before getting down to work.
Born in Wagga Wagga, Hampton played much of his junior football in Mareeba in North Queensland before moving to Melbourne to link with the Storm as a teenager.
He spent seven seasons in the company of the likes of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk but despite playing against Thurston on two occasions was admittedly nervous prior to their first meeting.
"I feel pretty comfortable approaching him now where when he first did arrive I was a little bit starstruck to be honest," Hampton said.
"I grew up watching him and I've watched a lot of him over the years of how he plays and how he holds himself off the field as well.
"There are a few of the greats down in Melbourne as well – Slater, Smith, Cronk, [Jesse] Bromwich – so I'm not sure whether it's because I went down there at such a young age, getting to know those boys over the years and how comfortable you end up with them.
"They're friends now and will be forever but the reputation that 'JT' has both on and off the field and how great of a player and person he is, it was a little bit daunting for me to first meet him.
"I've played against him a few times but I've never actually met him until last week. It was a bit daunting but a week and a half in now really happy being involved with him and excited to learn from him in the coming weeks and into the future."
A half coming through the junior ranks, Hampton became a jack of all trades in his past two seasons at Melbourne, playing fullback, centre, five-eighth and halfback as well as hooking and lock forward roles off the bench.
It is that utility value that most attracted Cowboys coach Paul Green and why after studying Smith and Cronk at close quarters Hampton has now turned his attention to the four-time Dally M Medal winner.
"It does get difficult at times playing in different positions but I'm really enjoying it at the moment," Hampton said.
"I haven't played heaps at hooker. Here and there when 'Smithy' was in the Origin camp and when he needed a rest I'd come on and play maybe 10 minutes every now and again. I did a fair bit of training at hooker and I enjoy playing through the middle and that utility role.
"Any time I am in the halves I'm always looking about. I'm always looking at what [Thurston] is doing and he's always one step ahead.
"He trains really, really hard and he's always on the ball and knows what he's doing and that's something that I can definitely improve."
Hampton's first senior appearance as a Cowboy alongside Thurston will likely come at next weekend's Downer NRL Auckland Nines where he hopes to press his claims as North Queensland's No.1 utility option ahead of the likes of Ray Thompson and Josh Chudleigh.
"If I do get in that Nines squad – and it's a totally different game to a 13-on-13 game – but I'm sure that it will be a good chance for me to put into play the new structures that I've learnt," Hampton said.
"It will definitely be a good place to start and show 'Greeny' that I am keen and eager to push for that utility spot."
First published on NRL.com.