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Ponga back, Fifita snubbed in Maroons team revamp

Queensland have recalled Kalyn Ponga, Dane Gagai and Selwyn Cobbo as coach Billy Slater makes key changes to the Maroons side for the State of Origin series decider.

Gold Coast forward David Fifita, who played all three Origin games for the Maroons last year, has again been overlooked in a controversial omission.

Fifita
David Fifita failed to earn a Maroons recall. (Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS)

Hamstring injuries to wingers Xavier Coates and Murray Taulagi forced Slater's hand in one respect, but between them the recalled trio bring much-needed skill, power, pace, size and experience to the table after the Maroons were outmuscled and outclassed 38-18 in Origin II in Melbourne.

Taulagi sustained his injury in North Queensland's 21-20 loss to Manly on Saturday night, and Coates limped off in Melbourne's 16-6 win over Canberra in round 17.

Newcastle fullback Ponga is a huge inclusion for the Suncorp Stadium showdown on July 17 after he returned successfully to the NRL in the Knights' 16-12 win over Canberra on Sunday following 11 weeks on the sidelines with a Lisfranc injury to his foot.

Ponga, expected to come off the bench, last played for the Maroons in the 22-12 win in the 2022 decider in Brisbane when he had his best game for Queensland.

Ponga
Queensland will hope Kalyn Ponga can bring back memories of his starring role in the 2022 decider. (Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS)

The 26-year-old Ponga made his Maroons debut off the bench in 2018 when he played in the middle and showcased his versatility in a similar role to the one he will play in the decider.  He sat out last year's series after multiple concussions.

Slater is just glad to have him back.

"Everytime you go through adversity, it builds that resilience in you. I have been through it as a player with injuries and setbacks and disappointments," Slater said.

"Kalyn has done that and he has really matured as a person and a footy player. It showed yesterday, to have the best part of three months off and come back and perform the way he did.

"I dare say if Kalyn Ponga is not on the field yesterday they may not get the two points. He is that influential at the Knights and I know what he brings to that footy team. He was pretty influential in 2022 here as well at Suncorp."

Gagai, 33, has been a Maroons hero so often on his way to scoring 12 Origin tries in 22 appearances.

He was 18th man in game two of this year's series, but sealed his return to the starting side with a dynamic display for the Knights against the Raiders, where he scored two tries and ran for 215m.

Gagai
Dane Gagai sealed his return with a stellar two-try effort against the Raiders. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Brisbane centre Cobbo, who shone in the 38-10 win in game one, returns after being rested for the Melbourne clash to get over injury niggles and to recharge mentally.

The 22-year-old's huge frame and skill-set will give the Maroons thrust and physicality they lacked at the MCG.

Cobbo
Selwyn Cobbo is back after playing in the game-one win. (Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS)

St George Illawarra second-rower Jaydn Su'A has been dropped for the Brisbane battle. He went for a scan on a tight quad on Monday but was available for selection.

Veteran back-rowers Kurt Capewell and Felise Kaufusi, who both came off the bench in game two, have been retained. Capewell will start in place of Su'A.

QUEENSLAND TEAM: 1.Reece Walsh, 2. Selwyn Cobbo, 3. Dane Gagai, 4. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, 5. Valentine Holmes, 6. Tom Dearden, 7. Daly Cherry-Evans, 8. Reuben Cotter, 9. Ben Hunt, 10. Lindsay Collins, 11. Kurt Capewell, 12. Jeremiah Nanai, 13. Pat Carrigan, 14. Harry Grant, 15. Mo Fotuaika, 16. Felise Kaufusi, 17. Kalyn Ponga, 18. Trent Loiero, 19. Brendan Piakura, 20. Reed Mahoney.