Paul Gallen rips QLD over divisive Origin move: 'Could not believe it'
A couple of massive calls from the Maroons left the NSW Origin great in disbelief.
Former New South Wales captain Paul Gallen admits he was left stunned by a number of shock Queensland calls for the State of Origin opener in Adelaide on May 31. Maroons coach Billy Slater has been called out after straying from Queensland's tried and tested "pick and stick formula", by axing last year's series-winning heroes Dane Gagai, Kalyn Ponga and Kurt Capewell.
The two biggest shocks came in the omissions of veteran NRL centre Gagai - who has played the last 22 games straight for Queensland - and last year's Game III hero Ponga. Both players were widely expected to be a part of Slater's squad, having proven themselves on numerous occasions for their state.
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Ponga's omission perhaps comes as less of a shock considering his well documented concussion struggles over the past year and the electric form of Broncos fullback Reece Walsh. However, Gallen says couldn't understand why Gagai - one of Queensland's most consistent performers over the years - had been overlooked at centre in favour of Dolphins fullback Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow.
" Queensland, they say this all the time, 'You don't understand Origin, you've got no idea, we pick and stick', (they've made) seven changes from last year's winning series," he told 2GB's Wide World of Sports Radio. "Queensland, go and pick your nose, seriously. It made me laugh so hard when they left those blokes out, Kurt Capewell, Dane Gagai, Kalyn Ponga, I could not believe it.
"There's only one thing left to do New South Wales, go and get the job done. Get it done in game one and then we'll see Queensland crawl back to their old ways to start plucking guys out of reserve grade, who knows."
The Daily Telegraph's Phil Rothfield went so far as to describe Queensland selection bombshells as being "disloyal" and argued that Ponga's form since returning to the field in 2023 had been excellent. He said the Knights captain's starring role in the Maroons' series win last year made the omission even harder to fathom.
“Ponga should be in the 14, he can cover every position in the backline and it is disloyal what they’ve done to him in my opinion,” Rothfield said. “What he did last year he deserves to be in that side.”
Slater admitted the phone call to Gagai to inform him he'd been dropped, was one of the hardest he's had to make. Gagai was overlooked after playing in every Origin game since the third match of 2015, with Blues assistant coach Greg Alexander telling SEN he found the move "stunning".
"When you think Queensland over the last seven or eight years, I think Cameron Munster, Josh Papalii and Dane Gagai. Dane Gagai is one of those players that just produces for Queensland and has every time," Alexander said.
The Australian's league reporter Brent Read told NRL 360: “I’m surprised Gagai is not there. I understand Ponga not being there given the concerns over the HIA and how good Reece Walsh is going. But the Gagai one surprised me.”
Reece Walsh vows to stick to his own game
Slater has consistently defended his selections in the face of intense scrutiny, with the Maroons coach particularly encouraging of his new fullback to stick to his natural game. Walsh - the Broncos livewire who's taken the NRL by storm in 2023 - says he plans to stick true to what's been successful this season.
"That is my job," Walsh said. "If I was in here doubting myself and not confident I would probably be doing Queensland and the jersey wrong. I will do whatever the team needs.
"What got me this jersey is taking my opportunities and come Wednesday I will express myself and be me. I don't really care what the Blues do.
"I am going to go out there and play football so they can do whatever they want. It is not going to faze me."
Walsh was in camp in 2021 and was set to play Game II but injured his hamstring in the captain's run. He says the experience taught him a valuable lesson about getting his preparation right and is confident of being fit and firing for the Maroons in Game I.
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