Queensland legend Billy Slater’s first big assignment as coach of his beloved state is complete, having named his maiden State of Origin team.
As always, there were a couple of surprises, and more than a few questions the rookie coach had to field on Monday.
He answered some of them, and we’ve filled in the rest.
READ MORE: $1.2M star snubbed in new-look Maroons side
READ MORE: Why ‘out of form’ Blues star couldn’t be picked
READ MORE: Ferrari star rages at crew after pit lane blunder
REASON BEHIND SLATER’S SURPRISE NO.9 CALL
Slater’s most surprising selection comes at hooker, where he’s picked Ben Hunt to start while benching Harry Grant.
Most followers would have thought Grant was a fait accompli to wear the No.9 jumper, but he will instead don the No.14. Parramatta rake Reed Mahoney – considered next in line to Grant – has been left out altogether.
Grant has done both roles in his two Origin games to date. He came off the bench in game three of the 2020 series and scored a solo try as the Maroons stunned the Blues to win by four points, and clinch the unwinnable series.
Last year Grant only played one game, again, due to injury and started at hooker in the series opener. Hunt, oddly, was not selected at all for that game by one-series coach Paul Green.
The Dragons veteran has been one of Queensland’s best and most consistent performers in recent years. In his 11 Origin games he has played at halfback, hooker, and off the bench as a floating middle forward.
“We feel that Ben Hunt has earned the opportunity to play in the No.9 jersey,” Slater said.
“He has been the Ron McAuliffe Medallist, which is Queensland’s best player, two series out of the last three years, so we feel that he has earned that opportunity.
“Harry is still getting over his groin injury, we feel that he is going to be OK to play but on top of that he has had the flu the last five days.
“I think anyone in the game knows the flu has been going around and has knocked some around for up to a week.”
Brad Fittler speaks after naming his Blues squad for game one
WHY WAS $1.2M MAN AXED?
It may not have been a surprise to many to see Gold Coast backrower David Fifita left off Slater’s teamsheet.
While he’s the highest paid forward in the NRL – raking in $1.2 million from the Titans this season alone – Fifita has been largely disappointing in his performances since switching clubs last year.
An injury from round 12 means he wouldn’t have been available for Origin I regardless, but Slater was not going to pick Fifita based on this season’s form.
Queensland selector Darren Lockyer also pointed out the form of the Titans made it hard to pick a number of their players.
“Probably a few of the players that were missed probably have been, I guess, a reflection of the Titans’ form. It hasn’t been great,” Lockyer told 4BC’s Wide World of Sports radio.
“When you’re not in form as a team, the little things aren’t being done well.
“That’s probably the big thing a coach looks at when you go into these games – all the players have got good habits currently.
“Unfortunately for some, the form of their club hasn’t helped their chances.”
SHOCK LOCK COMES FROM THE CLOUDS
Reuben Cotter’s name had been mentioned only in recent weeks as a bolter for the Queensland team.
But even he couldn’t have imagine he would win the No.13 jumper ahead of the likes of Patrick Carrigan and Jai Arrow.
Cotter was essentially a back-up hooker at North Queensland until recently, and he played just 21 NRL games across three seasons before this current one.
In 10 games this season he has emerged as a genuine middle forward talent, so much so that Slater plucked him from Townsville to play a key role for the Maroons.
“He has got his own mold of footy and I have been really impressed with Reuben,” Slater said.
“Anyone that has heard me talk about Reuben this year, they understand how important I see his role in the footy team, and he was one of the first guys that I wrote down.”
For a daily dose of the best of the breaking news and exclusive content from Wide World of Sports, subscribe to our newsletter by clicking here!
The greatest moments of State of Origin
#Slater #lifts #lid #selection #coming