Left-field option emerges as Maroons goal kicker

Laine Clark

He may have a lousy 43 per cent success rate at NRL level but Dane Gagai has backed himself to take up Queensland's crucial goal kicking role in next week's State of Origin opener in Melbourne.

Cronulla's Valentine Holmes loomed as the favourite to take over with the boot from retired Maroons greats Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith at Origin I on June 6.

Melbourne's Cameron Munster and St George Illawarra's Ben Hunt were the only other contenders Maroons coach Kevin Walters nominated when he named his team for the series opener.

But Gagai emerged as a surprise contender when he traded goals with Holmes at the Maroons' opening training session on Tuesday.

Gagai is not known for his goal kicking prowess but believed he could step up in front of a packed MCG on Wednesday week.

"I honestly don't mind the pressure," Gagai said.

"It's one of those things. We have obviously lost two great kickers in Smith and Thurston and we need a goal kicker so Val and I have put our hands up.

"Val went alright yesterday but we will have a kick off later in the week and see how we go."

However, Gagai admitted his preference was Holmes being first-choice kicker, as Holmes has a career goalkicking percentage of almost 72 per cent.

"I am more than happy for him to take it and I am sure that will go both ways (with Holmes) - as long as we are making them it doesn't matter," Gagai said.

Dane Gagai (L) has emerged as a bolter to take over Queensland's goal kicking role in Origin I. Pic: Supplied

"It's obviously a big role but you have to score tries first."

Thankfully Gagai has no problem doing that.

He has scored seven tries in as many Origins since his 2015 debut.

And Gagai is full of confidence after becoming the first winger to claim the Wally Lewis Medal as Queensland's 2017 Origin player of the year.

The South Sydney flyer said the Maroons were keen to lift for veteran fullback Billy Slater, who announced he would retire from representative football after the 2018 Origin series.

Gagai backed Slater (hamstring) to overcome injury and play his 30th Origin along with the Maroons' other concerns Josh McGuire (ankle), Hunt (thigh) and Michael Morgan (sternum).

All four fitness worries were rested from Tuesday's opening session.

Eyebrows were raised with reports the Bulldogs' Moses Mbye had come into the Maroons squad on Wednesday as 18th man on standby for Slater.

But it is believed Mbye is simply one of the fringe players Queensland traditionally invite into camp each year to provide an Origin taste.

Brisbane's Joe Ofahengaue is believed to be Queensland's official 18th man.

"He's just easing into training. Knowing Billy, he will be fine," Gagai said of Slater's fitness.

"And it (Mbye's Maroons camp injection) is just about getting him into training and familiar with the surrounds.

"It is similar to how I came through in 2015.

"When I made my debut I wasn't nervous because I had been around the boys so long - I felt like I belonged."