Star snubbed again amid mass Maroons changes

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Queensland Maroons coach Billy Slater has been forced into making changes. Picture: Mark Stewart

Queensland coach Billy Slater remains adamant the 17 players picked for next week’s State of Origin decider are those who have “earnt the opportunity to be here” after resisting calls to add wrecking ball David Fifita to his squad.

As the Maroons mentor declared Kalyn Ponga, who was rushed back after he made a strong return from a serious foot injury on Sunday afternoon, could form a lethal combination with Reece Walsh and he was excited for then to “get their footy on”, Slater revealed why Fifita was overlooked again.

“Dave was a serious consideration but we feel the 17 players that have been chosen are the 17 players who have earnt the opportunity to be here,” he said on Monday morning.

“All Queenslanders are considered and Dave’s name has been in the conversation for all games. Like I said at the start of the series, he started the season behind the eight ball with a pec injury, he didn’t have a great pre-season and he is still working back to the standard he set for himself last year.

“I’m sure he would be the first one to admit that. These conversations aren’t just throwaway conversations we have behind closed doors, this is the 17 we feel is the best for Game Three.

NRL Rd 18 -  Raiders v Knights
Kalyn Ponga returned for the Knights on Sunday. Picture: Jason McCawley/Getty Images

Ponga was one of several changes for the Maroons who are reeling after their heavy loss at the MCG, with wingers Xavier Coates (hamstring) and Murray Taulagi (hamstring) ruled out of the decider at Suncorp Stadium.

Selwyn Cobbo is among those recalled after he was strangely left out of the squad for game two despite dominating off the bench in the opening match, won by Queensland.

The match will be Ponga’s first appearance for the Maroons since 2022, with the reigning Dally M Medal winner set to be a nightmare for the Blues defence when he comes on working in tandem with Walsh.

“I always thought they would love to be teammates and now they get the opportunity to be teammates,” Slater said.

“How we go about it, we will build that over the next nine days.

“I am pretty excited for them both to go out there and get their footy on.”

State of Origin Media Opportunity In Melbourne
Queensland Maroons coach Billy Slater (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Valentine Holmes has kept his spot in the 17 after a poor start to the series, with the veteran shifting from centre to the wing where he has excelled in the past for his state.

Cobbo will start on the other wing having come on early after Reece Walsh was knocked out in game one.

Dane Gagai, 33, will start at right centre in his first Origin appearance since 2022, with the experienced Knight to provide the aggression on an edge that the Maroons desperately missed in Melbourne.

He’ll be joined in the centres by Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, with the Dolphins speedster named despite hurting his shoulder in the game two loss which has seen him sidelined ever since.

There is one other change to the starting side with Warriors veteran Kurt Capewell replacing Jaydn Su’A in the back row as the Maroons look for a third series win in a row.

“To be honest, the changes personnel wise aren’t going to fix what happened in Game Two,” he said.

“We have to make sure our discipline is on point and we aren’t putting more pressure on ourselves.

“That’s important for us to go after in this camp. It is a different game but we have to make sure it’s different with our actions.”

QUEENSLAND: 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.