Queensland will give Brisbane fullback Reece Walsh his Maroons debut in the State of Origin series opener, while Tevita Pangai will debut for NSW after Jake Trbojevic’s problematic calf prompted the Manly star to rule himself out.
The Maroons left out incumbent Newcastle fullback Kalyn Ponga, who was set to be selected before leaving the field in the Knights’ 26-6 loss to Cronulla on Saturday with an HIA. Ponga passed the concussion test, but due to his series of recent concussions the Maroons have put his welfare first and rewarded Walsh for his stellar form for the Broncos.
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.
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 the 15-4 loss to Penrith on Thursday night and has been left out.
The Maroons’ plans for the series opener on 31 May in Adelaide were thrown into disarray during round 12 of the NRL. Dolphins 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’ 24-16 loss to Melbourne. He is facing a three-week ban.
Brisbane prop Tom Flegler has also earned a recall and will play his first game for the Maroons since his solitary appearance in 2021. Walsh and Tabuai-Fidow have both won their selection on form.
For the Blues, Trbojevic looked set to be picked before reporting calf soreness in his NRL comeback game on Sunday afternoon. That prompted a last-minute change of plan for NSW coach Brad Fittler, calling Pangai into the squad as one of three debutants alongside Cronulla’s Nicho Hynes and Canberra’s Hudson Young.
“Jake was pencilled in,” Blues assistant coach Greg Alexander told SEN. “As you know you can’t pen anything in until everything’s over and we got word that Jake had re-injured that calf, which was disappointing after coming back and making his return against Canberra.”
Fittler has stuck with Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary in the halves, and made the bold call to leave Damien Cook out of the squad for the first time in his tenure. Apisai Koroisau will act as the sole hooker and be expected to go 80 minutes, leaving room for Hynes to debut off the bench.
Cook was expected to win the No 9 jersey and add to his 15 consecutive Origin games before Koroisau’s Saturday night performance for Wests Tigers got him over the line. Koroisau’s combination with Luai, Cleary and lock Isaah Yeo from his three years at Penrith is also viewed as a key advantage for the Blues.
Tom Trbojevic and Josh Addo-Carr are both selected at centre and on the wing respectively, leaving Campbell Graham as the odd man out and named as 18th man. There had been concerns over both Trbojevic and Addo-Carr’s fitness, but Trbojevic blew those away with a hat-trick of tries against Canberra on Sunday.
Addo-Carr also got through his return game for Canterbury unscathed, five weeks after syndesmosis surgery. Liam Martin has also been picked off limited game time this year, with the two-time Penrith premiership-winner expected to start in the second row.
Tyson Frizell’s Origin exile is over after he was recalled, and he is expected to play off the bench with the ability to play on the edge or through the middle. Young will join him as a backrower in the 17-man squad, after being one of the rising stars of the competition at Canberra in the past 18 months.
Sydney Roosters second-rower Angus Crichton, Penrith centre Stephen Crichton and Bulldogs centre-turned-half Matt Burton are among players to miss out after playing Game III last year.
NSW (in alphabetical order): Josh Addo-Carr, Nathan Cleary, Tyson Frizell, Payne Haas, Nicho Hynes, Apisai Koroisau, Jarome Luai, Liam Martin, Latrell Mitchell, Cameron Murray, Tevita Pangai, Junior Paulo, James Tedesco (captain), Brian To’o, Tom Trbojevic, Isaah Yeo, Hudson Young. 18th man: Campbell Graham.
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.