Billy Slater lifts lid on 'emotional' phone call to QLD Origin debutant

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Pictured left to right, Maroons Origin coach Billy Slater and Cowboys star Tom Gilbert.
Billy Slater (L) says things got emotional when he rang Tom Gilbert to tell the Cowboys star he was going to debut for QLD in the Origin decider. Pic: Getty

Queensland coach Billy Slater has lifted the lid on the "emotional" moment he phoned Tom Gilbert to inform the Cowboys forward he was going to be making his State of Origin debut.

Slater and the Maroons selectors made just one personnel change for the Origin decider at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday week, with Gilbert set to debut off the bench.

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It was a forced move for the Maroons who were struck a significant blow when destructive edge forward Felise Kaufusi ruled himself out so he could visit his sick father in the United States.

Cowboy Jeremiah Nanai will start in his third Origin in place of Kaufusi, while North Queensland teammate Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and emerging Sydney Roosters playmaker Sam Walker also joined the squad, replacing reserves Corey Oates and Reece Walsh.

Gilbert leapfrogged existing squad members Thomas Flegler and Beau Fermor to earn his call up, and Slater admitted the 21-year-old was overcome with emotion when he rang him up to deliver the news.

“One thing I did learn about Tom I realised how much Queensland means to him and how much playing for the Maroons means to him,” Slater said.

“It was quite an emotional call.”

Gilbert has been a consistent performer for the high-flying Cowboys this season and Slater said the passion he plays with on the footy field, was just the same on the phone.

“He’s a player that doesn’t hide his emotions on the field,” Slater revealed.

“He certainly didn’t do that on the phone call either.”

Gilbert has averaged 30 tackles and 114 run metres per game for the third-placed Cowboys this season, who are represented by four players in the Maroons side.

"Yep," Slater nodded when mention was made of the Maroons' efforts to counter the Blues' "Pantherisation".

"(Cowboys coach) Todd Payten's done a fantastic job up there and they're in a really good place.

"That game between North Queensland and Brisbane (on Saturday), the standard was really high.

"We've got a lot of Cowboys and a few Broncos here and they deserve to be here."

Seen here, Cowboys forward Tom Gilbert being tackled during the round 10 match against the Wests Tigers.
Cowboys forward Tom Gilbert is tackled during the round 10 match against the Wests Tigers in the NRL. Pic: Getty

Billy Slater sticks solid with Maroons after Game II belting

He said Gilbert, 21, had all the ingredients to make an impact at the next level.

"There's a fair bit to like about Tom; he's the sort of player you just want in your team," he said.

"That's a big part of our game that (aggression).

Slater stuck with wingers Selwyn Cobbo and Murray Taulagi, centre Dane Gagai and veteran prop Josh Papalii, but implored his troops to give him a response after they were outplayed in a 44-12 loss in Perth that squared the series.

"There's no doubt that individuals in our team can do their job better, but we've got our wingers, we've got our centres," Slater said.

"He'll (Nanai) settle into the game a bit better (rather than coming on as a substitute in the second half when he) probably thought he had to make up for lost time.

"I have a lot of faith in Jeremiah, he brings a lot to our team."

The Blues have also called in Jordan McLean to debut in Brisbane while his Cowboys teammate Reece Robson is in the extended squad, in what is a telling reflection of North Queensland's stunning form.

It comes after Brad Fittler leant on top-of-the-table Penrith for game two, picking seven Panthers as well as 2021 premiership player Matt Burton, who had since moved to the Bulldogs.

QUEENSLAND: Kalyn Ponga, Selwyn Cobbo, Valentine Holmes, Dane Gagai, Murray Taulagi, Cameron Munster, Daly Cherry-Evans (capt), Lindsay Collins, Ben Hunt, Josh Papalii, Kurt Capewell, Jeremiah Nanai, Tino Fa'asuamaleaui. Bench: Harry Grant, Jai Arrow, Patrick Carrigan, Tom Gilbert. Reserves: Thomas Flegler, Tom Dearden, Beau Fermor, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Sam Walker.

with AAP

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