Ponga back for Maroons as Slater makes Origin changes

Joel Gould |

Queensland have recalled Kalyn Ponga, Dane Gagai and Selwyn Cobbo as coach Billy Slater makes key changes to the Maroons side for the State of Origin series decider.

Gold Coast forward David Fifita, who played all three Origin games for the Maroons last year, has again been overlooked.

Hamstring injuries to wingers Xavier Coates and Murray Taulagi have forced Slater’s hand in one respect, but between them the recalled trio bring much-needed skill, power, pace, size and experience to the table after the Maroons were outmuscled and outclassed 38-18 in Origin II in Melbourne. 

Taulagi sustained his injury in North Queensland’s 21-20 loss to Manly on Saturday night, and Coates limped off in Melbourne’s 16-6 win over Canberra in round 17. 

Newcastle fullback Ponga is a huge inclusion for the Suncorp Stadium showdown on July 17 after he returned successfully to the NRL in the Knights’ 16-12 win on Sunday over Canberra following 11 weeks on the sidelines with a Lisfranc injury to his foot.

Ponga, expected to come off the bench, last played for the Maroons in the 22-12 win in the 2022 decider in Brisbane when he had his best game for Queensland.

The 26-year-old made his Maroons debut off the bench in 2018 when he played in the middle and showcased his versatility in a similar role to the one he will play in the decider.  

Gagai, 33, has been a Maroons hero so often on his way to scoring 12 Origin tries in 22 appearances. He was 18th man in game two of this year’s series, but sealed his return to the starting side with a dynamic display for the Knights against the Raiders, where he scored two tries and ran for 215m.

Brisbane centre Cobbo, who shone in the 38-10 win in game one, returns after being rested for the Melbourne clash to get over injury niggles and to recharge mentally.

The 22-year-old’s huge frame and skill-set will give the Maroons thrust and physicality they lacked at the MCG.

AAP understands that St George Illawarra second-rower Jaydn Su’A has been dropped for the Brisbane battle, but veteran back-rowers Kurt Capewell and Felise Kaufusi, who both came off the bench in game two, have been retained.