Slater explains bombshell Origin call

2024 State of Origin Series Launch
QLD Maroons head coach Billy Slater and Harry Grant. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Queensland coach Billy Slater says David Fifita hasn’t got to the “high standards” he set last season as he explained his decision to axe the Titans star for the State of Origin series opener.

Parramatta forward J’maine Hopgood has come in to the starting team as the lone debutant in the 17 to face NSW on June 5 taking the place of Fifita.

While the Blues have made mass changes under new coach Michael Maguire, Slater has the luxury of sticking with the bulk of the squad that has won the past two series, although there are a couple of tweaks with Jaydn Su’A returning for the first time since 2021.

He starts in the back row in place of Fifita who has been in sparkling form this season and scored one of Queensland’s two tries in the game three loss last year.

“Dave created a really high standard for himself last year, he just hasn’t quite got to that standard this year,” Slater said.

“I spoke to Dave (on Sunday night) and he has taken the disappointing news like a true Queenslander and wishes the best for the footy team.

“He also reiterated that in a text message after our chat so I have no doubt that Dave will get back to the footy that he played last year.

“I’m sure he will wear a Maroon jersey in the future again.”

Slater has turned to North Queensland’s Tom Dearden to replace the injured Cameron Munster who will miss the series with a groin injury, with the Cowboys five-eighth showing he’s ready for the Origin arena after he starred in the 2022 decider on debut.

“You don’t have to watch Tommy for too long to understand what he brings to a footy team,” he said.

“The one thing that Queensland did have when Cam Munster went down was quality players that could fill in that position.

Cowboys co-captain Tom Dearden during the 2024 Magic Round win over South Sydney Rabbitohs. Picture: NRL Imagery
Cowboys co-captain Tom Dearden during the 2024 Magic Round win over South Sydney Rabbitohs. Picture: NRL Imagery

“There wasn’t a wrong decision there (at five-eighth), but I felt Tommy has earnt this opportunity.

“He has great habits in his his game and he has done a great job for Queensland.”

Ben Hunt will again start at hooker with Harry Grant to come off the bench where he’s joined by Broncos centre Selwyn Cobbo who will cover for any injuries in the outside backs.

“Certainly he is there for a bit of cover but at the same time Selwyn can play various positions,” Slater said.

“I might even create one for him, who knows.

“We will plan that as the week goes on, but he is a wonderful player and we have only scratched the surface of what he can do.”

Dolphins hitman Felise Kaufusi is back in the squad as 18th man, while Broncos young guns Ezra Mam and Brendan Piakura are also on standby for the series opener.


1. Reece Walsh Brisbane Broncos

2. Xavier Coates Melbourne Storm

3. Valentine Holmes North Queensland Cowboys

4. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow The Dolphins

5. Murray Taulagi North Queensland Cowboys

6. Tom Dearden North Queensland Cowboys

7. Daly Cherry-Evans (C) Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles

8. Reuben Cotter North Queensland Cowboys

9. Ben Hunt St George Illawarra Dragons

10. Lindsay Collins Sydney Roosters

11. Jaydn Su’A St George Illawarra Dragons

12. Jeremiah Nanai North Queensland Cowboys

13. Patrick Carrigan Brisbane Broncos

14. Harry Grant Melbourne Storm

15. Moeaki Fotuaika Gold Coast Titans

16. J’maine Hopgood Parramatta Eels

17. Selwyn Cobbo Brisbane Broncos

18. Felise Kaufusi The Dolphins

19. Brendan Piakura Brisbane Broncos

20. Ezra Mam Brisbane Broncos