Billy Slater has demanded his under-pressure Queensland side “do their job better” as the coach delivered a show of faith with an extra sprinkle of Cowboy for the State of Origin decider.
Maroons selectors made just one personnel change for next Wednesday’s game three at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, with North Queensland forward Tom Gilbert set to debut off the bench.
It was a forced move though, Felise Kaufusi with his unwell father in the United States and ruling himself out.
Fellow Cowboy Jeremiah Nanai will start in his third Origin in place of Kaufusi, while NRL teammate Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and emerging Sydney Roosters playmaker Sam Walker also joined the squad, replacing reserves Corey Oates and Reece Walsh.
Gilbert leapfrogged existing squad members Thomas Flegler and Beau Fermor to earn his call up, while Slater said Walsh’s addition wasn’t a suggestion Cameron Munster (shoulder) or Kalyn Ponga (concussion) were in danger of missing the game.
He’s also stuck with wingers Selwyn Cobbo and Murray Taulagi, centre Dane Gagai and veteran prop Josh Papalii, asking for a response after they were outplayed in a 44-12 loss in Perth that squared the series.
“There’s no doubt that individuals in our team can do their job better, but we’ve got our wingers, we’ve got our centres,” Slater said.
“He’ll (Nanai) settle into the game a bit better (rather than coming on as a substitute in the second half when he) probably thought he had to make up for lost time.
“I have a lot of faith in Jeremiah, he brings a lot to our team.”
Gilbert, who will join the Dolphins next season, will partner three Cowboys teammates in the side and make it seven picked in the extended squad for Queensland across the series.
The Blues have also called in Jordan McLean to debut in Brisbane while his Cowboys teammate Reece Robson is in the extended squad, reflecting the flying NRL side’s 11-4 season at the next level.
It comes as Brad Fittler leant on top-of-table Penrith for game two, picking seven Panthers as well as 2021 premiership player Matt Burton, who had since moved to the Bulldogs.
“Yep,” Slater nodded when mention was made of the Maroons’ efforts to counter the Blues’ “Pantherisation”.
“(Cowboys coach) Todd Payten’s done a fantastic job up there and they’re in a really good place.
“That game between North Queensland and Brisbane (on Saturday), the standard was really high.
“We’ve got a lot of Cowboys and a few Broncos here and they deserve to be here.”
He said Gilbert, 21, had all the ingredients to make an impact at the next level.
“There’s a fair bit to like about Tom; he’s the sort of player you just want in your team,” he said.
“That’s a big part of our game that (aggression).
“It was quite an emotional call. He’s a player that doesn’t hide his emotion on the field and certainly didn’t do that on the call.”
QUEENSLAND: Kalyn Ponga, Selwyn Cobbo, Valentine Holmes, Dane Gagai, Murray Taulagi, Cameron Munster, Daly Cherry-Evans (capt), Lindsay Collins, Ben Hunt, Josh Papalii, Kurt Capewell, Jeremiah Nanai, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui. Bench: Harry Grant, Jai Arrow, Patrick Carrigan, Tom Gilbert. Reserves: Thomas Flegler, Tom Dearden, Beau Fermor, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Sam Walker.