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The Roar


Queensland Origin I team: Slater reveals 'hardest call I had to make' as star trio dumped while key forward dodges ban

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22nd May, 2023
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Billy Slater has made the boldest call of his brief Queensland coaching career by punting Kalyn Ponga, Kurt Capewell and Dane Gagai from his team for next Wednesday’s Origin series opener in Adelaide.

Ponga was man of the match in last year’s deciding game but after a couple of lengthy stints on the sidelines due to head knocks, a duty of care to the Newcastle star has been touted as a reason for his omission with Slater handing Reece Walsh his debut in the No.1 jersey after a couple of false starts the past two years.

Dolphins speedster Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow will replace Gagai in the centres while Capewell’s omission in the second row is a surprise given the Maroons will also be without Felise Kaufusi due to his high tackle charge.

“That was the hardest phone call I had to make,” Slater said on Monday about Gagai. “We all know what Dane Gagai brings to the footy team. Hamiso has been playing great too.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 18: Reece Walsh of the Broncos celebrates scoring a try during the round three NRL match between Brisbane Broncos and St George Illawarra Dragons at Suncorp Stadium on March 18, 2023 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Reece Walsh celebrates scoring a try. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

“Sometimes we can focus on who is not there. Now it is time to focus on who is there and building a game plan and having our players at their best for Wednesday week.”

Slater had good news in the case of Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, saying the Gold Coast captain would escape with a fine after two incidents in Sunday’s clash with Canterbury – he appeared to strike Bulldogs hooker Reed Mahoney with a raised forearm while in possession in the first half and was then reported for a lifting tackle on Tevita Pangai jnr with 10 minutes remaining in the match.



Brisbane prop Tom Flegler has been handed a starting spot while Titans second-rower David Fifita, who was overlooked last year, has also been recalled after returning to form this season.

Kaufusi was charged with a grade-two careless high tackle on former teammate Christian Welch in the opening stages of the Dolphins’ loss on Saturday night to Melbourne. Due to Kaufusi’s poor judiciary record, he has accepted a three-week ban, Slater said. 

A three-match ban means he’s eligible for Origin II on June 21 in Brisbane. Slater was unimpressed with Kaufusi’s tackle. “I thought it was a silly act,” Slater said on Nine’s Sunday Footy Show.

Felise Kaufusi scores for Queensland

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Another stalwart of the Queensland pack, Josh Papalii, last week retired from Origin after making 23 appearances over the past decade. 

Here’s how the Maroons will line up.

Queensland 2023 Origin I team


1 Reece Walsh
2 Selwyn Cobbo
3 Valentine Holmes
4 Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow
5 Murray Taulagi
6 Cameron Munster
7 Daly Cherry-Evans
8 Tom Flegler
9 Ben Hunt
10 Lindsay Collins
11 Tom Gilbert
12 David Fifita
13 Patrick Carrigan
14 Harry Grant
15 Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
16 Reuben Cotter
17 Jai Arrow
18 Tom Dearden
19 Christian Welch

Maroons spine: Walsh has been in red-hot form at the Broncos while Ponga has had flashes of brilliance at five-eighth for Newcastle but has not been consistent.

Still it’s a big call to brush Ponga given his reputation as a big-game player and the way he carved up the Blues last year for a rookie at this level. 

The rest of the spine picked itself – Cameron Munster and Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves with Ben Hunt and Harry Grant sharing the hooker duties after the ploy worked so well last year.

Outside backs: Tabuai-Fidow has experience playing at centre for the Cowboys and in his Origin debut two years ago despite playing solely at fullback this season for the Dolphins.

Gagai has given the Maroons great service in 22 Origins, but he has not been in the best of touch with Newcastle. He was below his best on Saturday with Cronulla utility Connor Tracey getting the better of him on a few occasions.

“He puts himself in the contest. I love his involvement,” Slater said on Monday about The Hammer. “He has some great strengths in his game and we want to bring them out.”


North Queensland’s Murray Taulagi is another surprise selection on the wing alongside Brisbane’s Selwyn Cobbo. Melbourne’s Xavier Coates has been in good form at NRL level and impressed in his brief Origin career thus far.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 15: David Fifita of the Titans is tackled during the round seven NRL match between Gold Coast Titans and Brisbane Broncos at Cbus Super Stadium on April 15, 2023 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

David Fifita. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Forward pack: Titans marquee David Fifita is thoroughly deserving of a recall after he was snubbed by Slater last year.

Flegler is also back to add to his sole Origin appearance in 2021, surprisingly chosen to start with Fa’asuamaleaui named on the interchange.

With Jeremiah Nanai out of the running due to his hip-drop ban and Kaufusi under a judiciary cloud, Slater had brought Fifita straight back into the starting side alongside Dolphins forward Tom Gilbert, who normally plays in the middle but has experience in the second row from his Cowboys days. 

Canberra’s Corey Horsburgh’s strong recent form while Storm prop Christian Welch, in his comeback season from an Achilles tear, is in the extended squad after Jai Arrow and Reuben Cotter got the nod ahead of him for the bench due to their versatility.

with AAP