Bennett: Gilbert the epitome of a Queensland forward
Wayne Bennett says Dolphins lock Tom Gilbert epitomises what a Queensland forward is all about as the race for selection in the Maroons' State of Origin side hots up.
Coach Billy Slater and his fellow selectors will on Monday name the side for Game One in Adelaide on May 31.
Gilbert, who debuted last year in the series decider in Brisbane, has convinced Bennett he should be in the side.
"After working with Tom Gilbert it would be hard for me to leave him out of any team I ever coach because he brings all the qualities you need in a player," Bennett said.
"Is he going to be the headline every week? No he's not but he's that guy that epitomises the Queensland forward pack. He'll get out there and make 50 tackles and 20 carries.
"He might get hit hard in every one of those but he'll say, 'I'll keep doing it for you because I believe in what I'm doing'. He epitomises that.
"He helps a lot of other players around him. His form has been really good here. He backed himself to come here. He was playing in a really good team at the Cowboys (in 2022) but he has made a real difference."
Slater has a smorgasbord of middle forwards to consider
Gold Coast captain Tino Fa'asuamaleaui, Brisbane lock Pat Carrigan and Sydney Roosters prop Lindsay Collins are set to be selected.
Gilbert and Christian Welch (Melbourne) Corey Horsburgh (Canberra), J'maine Hopgood (Parramatta) Reuben Cotter (North Queensland), Jai Arrow (South Sydney) and Moeaki Fotuaika (Gold Coast) are among those vying for positions on the bench at the very least.
The retirement from Origin football of warhorse Canberra prop Josh Papalii has also opened up a vacancy.
"I see Papalii has retired and he's been a great player for Queensland. I loved coaching him that year (2020) I had with him," Bennett said.
"He will be missed but there are young men coming up ready to take (his) place. He is in a good place Billy because he has some players there that have long-term futures in the game at that level in particular."
Bennett coached the Maroons to a famous 2-1 victory in 2020 when the side was written off.
"I remember at the time everyone was doom and gloom about the 2020 series but I knew there were the young players in the system. It just takes time," Bennett said.
"Three years on these guys have grown up and are all playing regular first grade. All of a sudden they are Queensland's new forward pack and they are going to be here the next seven or eight years."