Billy Slater has axed incumbent fullback Kalyn Ponga to hand Bronocos prodigy Reece Walsh his debut a fullback for the Maroons in State of Origin Game I. Walsh has been in astounding form for the Broncos this year and there have been plenty of calls for the youngster to usurp the incumbent to make his Origin debut.
This came as Ponga spent time dealing with repeated concussions that kept him out of the game for months, but the superstar has returned in recent weeks to find form at the right time. Ponga is the Maroons incumbent and was player of the match in the Game III decider last year.
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However, Slater named his side on Monday morning and opted to go with Walsh as his fullback. This is despite giving Ponga a glowing endorsement on the weekend.
Ponga's axing as the No.1 comes after he was Queensland's best player in last year's thrilling decider win, in what doubled as arguably his finest hour on the football field. Maroons and Kangaroos five-eighth Cameron Munster was sure either of the two players will do the job in the Maroons jersey. "Hopefully Kalyn is good and his head is alright. If he is, then I am sure he will be ready and raring to go," Munster said.
"Regardless of who is playing fullback we have got electrifying players. Reece Walsh and Kalyn Ponga are great assets for our team and provide X factor."
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Ponga's axing was one of several crucial calls made by Maroons selectors in the unveiling of a team captained by halfback Daly Cherry-Evans for the fifth straight series. Munster and Cherry-Evans were a lock for the Maroons having steered the team to numerous Origin series titles, including in 2022.
Veteran Dane Gagai also lost his spot in the side after 21 games in the Maroons jersey. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow will partner Valentine Holmes in the centres.
Felise Kaufusi's looming ban for a high shot and the omission of Kurt Capewell, who was under an injury cloud, saw both Jai Arrow and David Fifita recalled.
Tom Gilbert was a lock for the back row position.
Queensland Origin Game I team:
Bench: Grant, Tino, Cotter, Arrow Dearden (18th man) Welch (19th man)
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