Dane Gagai's omission from Queensland's team for State of Origin I was a big story in and of itself, but NRL icon Matty Johns says the fact that his omission was leaked days beforehand was an act of 'disrespect' to one of the Maroons' most consistent performers. Gagai, along with Newcastle's Kalyn Ponga, headlined a Queensland shake-up, but Johns was left disappointed with how it was handled.
While the omission of Ponga wasn't revealed until the formal team announcements were made last week, reports that Gagai had been dropped began emerging days before the announcement. Johns said on his SEN 1170 show 'Morning Glory with Matty Johns' that he initially didn't believe the reports.
While Ponga's omission was a bold move from Queensland coach Billy Slater it was one Johns said was justifiable. However in the case of Gagai, Johns said it was inconceivable that not only would he be left out of the team, but that his standing as one of the Maroons' top performers over the years was seemingly overlooked.
“The Ponga one I was very surprised but I get it. But I was stunned by Gagai not being selected,” Johns said. “Can I just say what I really did think was disrespectful was that about three or four days before the selections, it came out in numerous media outlets that Gagai was not going to be picked.
“Now, number one I just didn’t believe it and one of the reasons is how he’s aimed up, regardless of his club form, he’s always in my opinion aimed up. But I just didn’t believe it because given what he’s done for that jersey, there is no way someone would leak it.
“But someone had. That’s the thing I found really disrespectful. Shocking.”
Johns was far from the only one to express shock over Gagai's absence. Daily Telegraph rugby league writer Buzz Rothfield said the Maroons had 'thrown loyalty out the window', also citing the absence of Queensland regular Kurt Capewell, as well as surprise over Ponga's exclusion.
A different looking Maroons backline for origin one. Congrats Reece Walsh who is fullback. The Hammer in the centres. Bad luck for Dane Gagai & Kalyn Ponga. But that is a quick backline for the Maroons. Could be the most attacking game one we’ve seen in a long time @NRLonNine
— Peter Psaltis (@peterp79) May 21, 2023
It’s worth noting that 4 Cowboys players fresh off letting in 66 points over the weekend against Wests Tigers got picked for Queensland, but Dane Gagai was dropped due to defensive concerns.
Yep, good ol’ pick and stick Queensland at it again.#SBFsBay53 #NRLW #Origin
— Bay 53 Podcast (@Bay53Pod) May 22, 2023
Well QLD can no longer sledge NSW for a lack of loyalty in Origin.
Gagai dumped after all he’s done for Maroons and coming off a winning series. #Origin
— Adam Hawse (@AdamHawse) May 21, 2023
“No Ponga after that game he played two weeks ago," Rothfield told NRL 360. "One of the best individual performance all year. I know he got the knock the other night.
“No Capwell, No Gagai – 22 Origins straight. He’s got them out of so much. I’m surprised they haven’t stuck more solid.”
Dane Gagai's Origin omission leaves NRL observers in shock
Blues mastermind Greg Alexander was equally shocked, pointing out that the likes of Gagai, Cameron Munster, Josh Papalii had come to personify the Queensland side in recent years.
“Stunning. It’s stunning. One of the players you picture when you think Queensland for the last 7-8 years, you think Cameron Munster, Josh Papalii and Dane Gagai,” he said. “Dane Gagai is just one of those players that just produces for Queensland and has every time.”
Queensland have won five of the eighth series Gagai has been involved in since his debut. He is also third on the list of all-time try scorers for the state, behind Darius Boyd and Greg Inglis.
Gagai also won the Wally Lewis medal for player of the series in 2017, while the Dolphins' Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow has scored 10 tries in 10 games this year as he puts his hand up for an Origin recall.
Earlier in May, Maroons selector Darren Lockyer had remained coy about the position debate leading into the announcement of the squad and said it was a 'balancing act'.
"You've got players that are at the back end of their career, they've done a hell of a lot for the team and I guess it's just a judgment call from not just the selectors, but the coach is probably the primary person to make that judgment call," Lockyer said on the Wide World of Sports.
"Can they still perform and do their job at that level? That's the question you've got to ask. Sometimes it's not about picking the team and potentially leaving someone out; you have a conversation with them before that even happens."
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