Kalin Ponga and Dane Gaga have been named in the 19-man squad

By: Emily Patterson and Damien McCartney

Queensland coach Billy Slater confirmed a number of big Origin I calls in his squad before pulling the lid on the “tough phone calls” he had to make on Sunday night to break the news.

As expected, Rhys Walsh won the battle for the quarterback position over incumbent Kalin Ponga.

He is the only debutant in the team

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14 players were recalled from last year’s lineup.

Thomas Flagler, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidov, David Fifita and Christian Welch are the other four recalled to the squad.

Dane Gagai is a notable omission, marking a possible departure from the pick-and-paste culture of the Maroons.

Tino Faasuamalaui has been cleared to play after only being booked for contact with Bulldogs ruck Reid Mahoney in Sunday’s loss to the Titans.

Slater also opted to skip Felice Kaufusi, who is facing a three-game suspension for a high tackle on former teammate Christian Welch in the Dolphins’ loss to the Storm on Saturday night.

Speaking to the media, Slater revealed he had taken it upon himself to break the news to the four big names he left out, calling Ponga, Gaga, Kurt Capwell and Xavier Coates on Sunday.

“I had to make some really tough phone calls last night, good phone calls, but [also] some are really tough,” he said.

“They are not easy decisions, but they are made for the right reasons and I believe in that.

“[But] they were very understanding.

“Those four guys are all Queenslanders.

“At the end of the conversation, they were all really supportive of this team, they all want success for this team, and they’re willing to support the team in any way they can.

“They are great people and great Queenslanders.”

Slater emphasized his confidence in his decisions, particularly the controversial call to hand Walsh the No.1 jersey because of Ponga.

“At the end of the day, I’m really comfortable that this is the right decision,” he said.

“It’s the right decision for everyone involved, it’s the right decision for the team.

“Rhys Walsh is playing fantastic football. I’ve watched him closer than most and he’s in a really good spot. So I’m fine with the decision we made.”

Slater shrugged off questions about the impact of the Ponga battle in the double shock on his decision, choosing instead to emphasize that Walls had undoubtedly earned his place.

“There’s a lot more to Rhys Walsh than what we see on the surface,” he said.

“He has a great work ethic. if you ever watch him play live, he moves a lot without getting into the picture.

“His game is in a good place and it’s only going to get better.”

Slater also acknowledged the strain of introducing Gaga, a consistent performer on the Origin circuit, to Tabuai-Fidow.

“Hamiso is playing great too,” he said.

“Sometimes we can focus on guys who aren’t there, now it’s time to focus on who is there, build a game plan and have our players at their best.

“Now that is the priority.”

The Maroons take on the Blues at Adelaide Oval on Wednesday Saturday.


1. Rhys Walsh

2. Selwyn Cobo

3. Valentine Holmes

4. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow

5. Murray Taulagi

6. Cameron Munster

7. Daley Cherry-Evans

8. Thomas Flagler

9. Ben Hunt

10. Lindsay Collins

11. Tom Gilbert

12. David Fifita

13. Patrick Carrigan

14. Harry Grant

15. Tino Faasuamalaui

16. Reuben Cotter

17. Jai Arrow

18. Tom Dearden

19. Christian Welch

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