'The hardest phone call': Slater on dropping Gagai

·2-min read

Billy Slater says he had to make some tough phone calls with players about Queensland Origin team omissions, but none more difficult than with Maroons stalwart Dane Gagai.

Newcastle centre Gagai was dropped with Dolphins flyer Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow preferred in the team to play NSW in the Origin series opener on May 31 in Adelaide.

The 32-year-old Gagai has played 22 consecutive Origin games from his debut in 2015 through to the decider last year.

And he always seemed to grow an extra arm and leg for the Maroons on his way to scoring 12 tries and playing a key role in five series wins.

"That was the hardest phone call I had to make," Maroons coach Slater said.

"We all know what Dane Gagai brings to the footy team. Hamiso has been playing great too.

"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 also had to call Kalyn Ponga, Kurt Capewell and Xavier Coates with bad news, with Brisbane fullback Reece Walsh, Gold Coast wrecking ball David Fifita and North Queensland winger Murray Taulagi chosen instead.

"I spoke to Kalyn last night and I had to make some really tough phone calls last night," Slater said.

"Those four guys are Queenslanders through and through. By the end of the conversations they were all really supportive of this team.

"They all want success for this team. They are great men and great Queenslanders."

Slater said there were other "good conversations", including the ones to debutant Walsh, 20, and 21-year-old Tabuai-Fidow.

"It was a little bit emotional. He is a good young man Reece," Slater said.

"I believe there are two things you need to play State of Origin for Queensland.

"The first thing is you need to be capable and the second thing is you need an opportunity.

"To be fair I think Reece got his opportunity before he got that capability in his game and didn't get to play (in Game Two of 2021) because of his hamstring.

"Now he is a much more capable player and a much more rounded player and he is only going to get better."

"It was a great phone call. He gets to play his first game for Queensland."

The call to Tabuai-Fidow let him know he would play his second Origin match for the Maroons.

"He puts himself in the contest. I love his involvement," Slater said.

""He has some great strengths in his game and we want to bring them out."