Queensland legend Billy Slater has completed his first major assignment as coach of his favorite state, naming his first State of Origin team.
As always, there were a few surprises, and more than a few questions the rookie coach had to take to the field on Monday.
He answered some of them, and we met the rest.
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The reason behind Slater’s surprise No. 9 call
Slater’s most amazing selection comes from Hooker, where he chooses Ben Hunt to start when Harry Grant benches.
Most followers thought Grant had a partner to wear the No. 1 jumper, but he would don the No. 14 instead. Paramatman Wreck Reed Mahoney – considered in the next line of the grant – has been omitted altogether.
Grant has played both roles in his two original games so far. He came off the bench in three games of the 2020 series and tried singles as the Maroons stunned the Blues to win by four points and won the unbeaten series.
Grant played only one game last year, again, due to injury and started as a hooker in the series opener. Hunt, oddly enough, was not selected at all by one-series coach Paul Green for that game.
Dragon Experience is one of the best and most consistent performers in Queensland in recent years. In his 11 origins he has played as a floating middle forward, halfback, hooker and off the bench.
“We think Ben Hunt got a chance to play in the No. 1 jersey,” Slater said.
“He’s the Ron McAuliffe Medalist, Queensland’s best player, two series in the last three years, so we think he’s got that opportunity.
“Harry is still recovering from his groin injury, we feel he will be fine to play but he has had the flu for the last five days.
“I think anyone in the game knows that the flu has been going on and hit something for a week.”
Brad Fitler speaks after naming his blues squad for the first game
Why were $ 1.2M people axed?
It came as no surprise to many that David Fifita Slater, the Gold Coast backbencher, was leaving the team sheet.
Although he is the highest paid forward in the NRL – earning $ 1.2 million from the Titan this season alone – FIFA has been disappointing in its performance since switching clubs last year.
An injury from Round 12 means he wasn’t available for Origin I regardless, but Slater is not going to pick Fifita based on his form this season.
Queensland selector Darren Lockier also noted that the Titans’ form has made it difficult for them to select a number of players.
Lockyer told 4BC’s Wide World of Sports Radio: “Some of the players that were missed were probably a reflection of the Titans’ form.
“When you’re not in form as a team, the little things aren’t done well.
“It’s probably the biggest thing a coach sees when you go to these games – all the players have good habits right now.
“Unfortunately for some, their club form did not help their chances.”
The shock lock comes from the clouds
Reuben Cotter has been named for the Queensland team in recent weeks.
But he could not even imagine that he would win the number 13 jumper over the likes of Patrick Carrigan and Joy Arrow.
Until recently, Kota was originally a back-up hooker in North Queensland, and before that he played only 21 NRL games in three seasons.
In 10 games this season he has emerged as a true middle forward talent, so much so that Slater picked him up from Townsville to play a key role for the Maroons.
“He’s got his own mold of footy and I’m really impressed with Reuben,” Slater said.
“Anyone who has heard me talk about Reuben this year has realized how important I saw his role in the footy team and that he was one of the first people I wrote about.”
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