State of Origin: Jason Taumalolo refuses to give up on interstate league dream

NZ-born North Queensland Cowboys star Jason Taumalolo will watch on from the sidelines at the State of Origin series opener in Townsvillle, wondering what might have been.

His debut for the Kiwis back in 2014 has made him ineligible for selection, despite spending 15 years in his adopted state, where he's played more than 200 games for the Cowboys.

But Taumalolo hasn't given up hope of being part of rugby league's most famous showpiece.

"Obviously, if the rules change and make me eligible then I'm all for it," Taumalolo tells Newshub. "But I'm happy watching tonight and hopefully back Queensland."

The 28-year-old has become a force for Tonga on the international stage, where he's been at the forefront of their emergence as a powerhouse nation.

There'll be a significant Kiwi and Pasifika influence across both teams in Wednesday's opener.

Five Kiwi-born players will take part in State of Origin I, which will be played in front of a capacity crowd of 28,000 - the biggest sporting event this city has ever held.

One of those is Parramatta Eels and Blues enforcer Junior Paulo.

"I've still got plenty of family, all still in New Zealand," Paulo says. "It's always going to be a big part of me and where I'm from."

Paulo realised early in his career that he had to make the choice between playing for the Kiwis or State of Origin.

"For me, it was just playing for New South Wales," he admits. "It would have been nice to represent the country of birth, but fortunately for me, I'm representing where I've always played my football and where I consider home."

Part of his job tonight will be silencing what’s sure to be a vocal home crowd in Townsville and securing a series lead for his adopted home state.

Tune into Three or ThreeNow from 9:50pm (NZ time) Wednesday for free-to-air coverage of the State of Origin opener, or join us for live updates