Walsh to debut for Maroons amid Origin selection shocks
Queensland will give Brisbane fullback Reece Walsh his State of Origin debut in the series opener after selectors made late changes before naming their squad on Monday.
The Maroons left out incumbent fullback Kalyn Ponga, who was set to be selected before leaving the field for an HIA in Newcastle's 26-6 loss to Cronulla on Saturday.
Ponga passed that assessment, but due to his series of recent concussions the Maroons put his welfare first and rewarded Walsh for his stellar form with inclusion for the opening match in Adelaide on May 31.
In another selection bombshell, Maroons regular Dane Gagai has been dropped and his centre spot given to Dolphins fullback Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, who made his Origin debut in 2021 in the centres.
Newcastle's Gagai struggled defensively against the Sharks on Saturday while Tabuai-Fidow has been brilliant for the Dolphins.
On Ponga's omission, coach Billy Slater said it was "the right decision for everyone involved". Asides from his head knocks this year, Ponga has played limited football for Newcastle.
"It is the right decision for the team and Reece Walsh has been playing fantastic football," Slater said. "I have watched him closer than most people and he is in a really good place."
Slater said there was "no more influential player" in last year's series than Ponga, but that Queensland officials had taken "everything into consideration" in omitting him, including a duty of care.
The Maroons coach breathed a sigh of relief on Monday when prop Tino Fa'asuamaleaui escaped suspension for raising his forearm on Reed Mahoney during Gold Coast's loss to Canterbury on Sunday.
He will receive an $1800 fine, while he escaped penalty for also up-ending Tevita Pangai Jr in a tackle later in the game.
Gold Coast second-rower David Fifita has won a recall and is set to start alongside Dolphins lock Tom Gilbert in the back-row.
Brisbane second-rower Kurt Capewell suffered a shoulder injury in his team's loss to Penrith on Thursday night and has been left out.
The Maroons' plans for the series opener were thrown into disarray during the latest NRL round.
Second-rower Felise Kaufusi, who was a certainty to be selected, was charged by the match review committee for a high shot on Christian Welch in the Dolphins' loss to Melbourne.
He was omitted as he faces a three-week ban.
Brisbane prop Tom Flegler has earned a recall and will play his first game for the Maroons since his solitary appearance in 2021.
Slater said Tabuai-Fidow had earned his recall.
"Hammer has been playing really well," Slater said.
"Last year he was in and out of the Cowboys side and this year he has played every game for the Dolphins and done a great job."
Queensland: Reece Walsh, Selwyn Cobbo, Valentine Holmes, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Murray Taulagi, Cameron Munster, Daly Cherry-Evans, Tom Flegler, Ben Hunt, Lindsay Collins, Tom Gilbert, David Fifita, Pat Carrigan. Interchange: Harry Grant, Tino Fa'asuamaleaui, Reuben Cotter, Jai Arrow. Reserves: Tom Dearden, Christian Welch.