Billy Slater's prickly response to journalist over Queensland State of Origin question

Slater has refused to rule out late changes to the Maroons team for Game I.

Maroons coach Billy Slater has refused to rule out making late changes to his side ahead of Game I but insists the 17 selected have been made with great thought. Speaking to media in Sydney on Tuesday morning, the Queensland mentor failed to confirm the side that will take the field in tomorrow night’s highly anticipated clash.

"We’ve still got a little bit of time to go but we’ll make that decision closer to kick off. We’ve got until an hour before kick-off before the team goes in and that’s when it’ll be final," Slater said.

And Slater didn't take too kindly to suggestions that he may have rethought his team selection, reiterating his confidence in the side he named, insisting he "spent a lot of time doing it (picking the team)".

Maroons coach Billy Slater pictured
Maroons coach Billy Slater refused to rule out making late changes to his side for Game I. Image: Getty

"I know I’ve spent more time watching our Queenslanders than any other person. When you’re in this position you’ve gotta make decisions.

"Every decision that I’ve made for this footy team, and this state, is for this footy team and for the state. That’s why I’m standing here. I’m here for Queensland. This is Queensland’s team and sometimes there’s some tough decisions to make." The tough decisions he is alluding to is namely the call to leave Titans star David Fifita out of his side and the inclusion of outside back Selwyn Cobbo on his bench.


The decision to leave the star back-rower out of his Queensland team for State of Origin I stunned the NRL world as perplexingly Slater put Fifita's axing down to his form in 2024. "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.

However, in a showing of just how far down the pecking order Fifita has fallen in Slater's eyes, the Queensland coach not only opted for Jeremiah Nanai and Jaydn Su'a in the second row and Eels forward J'Maine Hopgood on the bench but also named back rowers Brendan Piakura and Felise Kaufusi ahead of him in the extended squad.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - MAY 12: David Fifita of the Titans looks on during the round 10 NRL match between Gold Coast Titans and North Queensland Cowboys at Cbus Super Stadium, on May 12, 2024, in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
Billy Slater's decision to leave out David Fifita from the Maroons Game I side came as a shock.

Despite refusing to rule out a late switcheroo, the Queensland coach said Cobbo wouldn't be dropped. "Selwyn’s been great. He’s really matured over the last couple of years. He’s a wonderful player. He can play a number of positions. At the end of the day you just want Selwyn Cobbo out on the field,” Slater said.

“Where that is, you know, we’ve got a bit of an idea around that, but that might change as well because, over the last two years, there have been more times than not that players have had to be interchanged through injury and for different reasons."

Cobbo was one player who fans and pundits hypothesised could be dropped on gameday to make way for another forward. However, with seemingly no changes to his 17 ahead of tomorrow night’s kick-off, speculation is growing about what, if any, changes Slater would even consider.

To date at no point in his Origin coaching career has Slater pulled a late hooker change on gameday, meaning Ben Hunt will almost certainly retain his starting role with Harry Grant to come off the bench. And while history would suggest any game-day Maroons changes will come in the forwards, with the injuries to Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Tom Flegler, Tom Gilbert and Jai Arrow the middle forward stocks are depleted as is, which means it is likely the team will in fact stay as listed.