Billy Slater explains David Fifita axing as NRL world stunned by QLD State of Origin team

NRL fans and pundits have been left gobsmacked by the Maroons coach's call for the State of Origin opener.

Billy Slater's decision to leave David Fifita out of his Queensland team for State of Origin I has stunned the NRL world, with many questioning how the rampaging back-rower could possibly be overlooked. Slater's team for the Origin opener was leaked on Sunday night ahead of the official announcement on Monday morning.

And the biggest surprise was Fifita's axing after the Gold Coast Titans forward played in all three Origin games last year. Slater has instead gone with Jeremiah Nanai and Jaydn Su'a in the second row, with Parramatta forward J'Maine Hopgood earning his Queensland debut on the bench.

Tom Dearden has won the race to replace Cameron Munster at five-eighth, beating Ezra Mam (who is in the 20-player squad). Slater has gone with a fairly unchanged back-line, with Reece Walsh, Xavier Coates, Valentine Holmes, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Murray Taulagi, while Daly Cherry-Evans is the halfback and captain.

Billy Slater, Reece Walsh, Selwyn Cobbo and David Fifita.
Billy Slater (L) has axed David Fifita (R) from his Queensland team, while Selwyn Cobbo (second from right) will be on the bench. Image: Getty

Reuben Cotter and Lindsay Collins are the front-rowers and Patrick Carrigan is the lock, while Ben Hunt will be named at hooker and Harry Grant on the bench. Another surprise inclusion on the bench is Selwyn Cobbo, with the Broncos centre unable to force his way back into the starting side after missing Game III last year.

David Fifita.
David Fifita in action for the Titans against the Broncos.


Moeaki Fotuaika is the other player on the bench, while Mam joins Dolphins veteran Felise Kaufusi and Broncos back-rower Brendan Piakura as the wider squad players. Piakura's selection is said to be a look to the future and a move to get him some experience in an Origin camp, but fans were left gobsmacked at his inclusion over Fifita.

Fifita missed the opening month of the NRL season through injury but has been back to his rampaging best over the last few weeks. He was enormous with his involvements and impact against the Broncos on Sunday and ran for 230 metres, to go along with two try assists and six tackle breaks.

"He was a different animal out there today," Titans captain Fotuaika said of Fifita after the shock 36-34 win. "He was taking kick-off runs. It's good to see that side of him come out."

Slater revealed on Monday morning that it was merely the form of others that resulted in Fifita being axed. "I've got no doubt that Dave will get back to the footy he played last year, and I'm sure he will wear a Maroons jersey in the future again," the coach said.

“Dave created a really high standard for his footy last year. He just hasn’t quite got to that standard this year. I spoke to Dave last night, he’s taken the disappointing news like a true Queenslander and wishes the best for the footy team.”

But the barnstorming display wasn't enough to convince Slater that he deserved to keep his Origin spot, and Fifita will now watch the opening game of the series from home. The decision has been widely questioned by fans and pundits alike, with many pointing out that NSW will be happy they don't have to face a rampaging Fifita in the Game I.

Slater officially named his side on Monday morning after a meeting with fellow Maroons selectors Darren Lockyer and Gene Miles and Sunday night. One day after Michael Maguire opted to make 11 changes for the Blues from Game III last year and name six debutants, there are no such challenges for the Maroons.

Hopgood is the only debutant for Queensland after he was part of last year's extended squad. Otherwise, Slater will take 16 other players with Origin experience into the June 5 series opener.

It continues a period of stability for Slater and the Maroons, after they were only forced to debut two players in last year's series win - Walsh in Game I and Corey Horsbugh in Game III. It marked the fewest number of first-game players the Maroons have used in an Origin series since 2014.

  1. Reece Walsh

  2. Xavier Coates

  3. Valentine Holmes

  4. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow

  5. Murray Taulagi

  6. Tom Dearden

  7. Daly Cherry-Evans (c)

  8. Reuben Cotter

  9. Ben Hunt

  10. Lindsay Collins

  11. Jaydn Su’a

  12. Jeremiah Nanai

  13. Patrick Carrigan

  14. Harry Grant

  15. Moeaki Fotuaika

  16. J’Maine Hopgood

  17. Selwyn Cobbo

Reserves: 18. Felise Kaufusi, 19. Brendan Piakura, 20. Ezra Mam

with AAP