Newcastle centre Dane Gagai has described the conversation he had with Queensland coach Billy Slater last week about not being selected for the State of Origin series-opener as one of the most difficult of his rugby league career. This came as a shock to Gagai, having played for the Maroons for 22 straight appearances since his debut in 2015. It was a tough chat with his seven-year-old son, Dante, to explain why he would not be playing in Adelaide on Wednesday night.
Gagai said that Queensland would always pick what they believed to be the best team for the job and that he would always support their decision. Speaking about the situation, he said that that the hardest part was telling his son. Without going into specific detail about his discussion with Slater, he did mention how he felt he had developed a strong bond with Slater since the injury that ended Slater’s season in 2015, giving Gagai the chance to make his Origin debut. Gagai went on to say that he believed his form for the Knights this season, especially defensively, had been enough for him to retain his place in the Queensland backline.
Newcastle Knights‘ Kalyn Ponga was also not required for Origin duty, with his focus remaining on the Knights and playing every week after spending the majority of the past 10 months recovering from multiple concussions. Ponga said that he just wanted to win games with the Knights, adding that his main priority was playing good footy, and things would hopefully follow. The Knights’ coach, Adam O’Brien, was also pleased with how both players responded to being left out of the Queensland side.
Though Dante was born in Newcastle, Gagai played the father-son card and described him as a “Queenslander through and through” while also stating that he supported the Queensland team. While Gagai was disappointed, his focus was on Newcastle, and he wanted to continue playing well enough to remain an option for selection in Origin II and III. With 21 runs for 165 meters and 12 tackles in the win against Manly, Gagai stated that he wanted to continue to maintain this high work rate when the Knights next play against the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium on June 10.
Ponga was back in his regular position as fullback. He recovered from a shaky start, leading several attacking raids down Manly’s right edge. After a couple of heavy hits, Ponga then went on to get up quickly from the ground, showing that he had recovered from his previous concussions. O’Brien was pleased with how both players handled their disappointment at training last week and remained determined about the Knights moving forward.