Gagai set to receive Origin reprieve

Sympathetic Queensland selectors look set to give Dane Gagai a State of Origin reprieve but Cowboys flyer Kyle Feldt isn’t expected to be so lucky after his error-riddled Maroons audition.

Queensland’s famous loyalty will only go so far, with Warriors backrower Jacob Lillyman expected to be cut from the Maroons bench for the June 1 series opener in Sydney.

A new-look Queensland backline with two debutants – Justin O’Neill and Corey Oates – is set to be named by Maroons selectors on Tuesday night.

Winger Gagai is expected to retain his spot despite appearing on the outer with NRL cellar dwellers Newcastle.

The passion Gagai has shown in the Knights jersey – even breaking down in tears after a 62-0 loss to Cronulla – has not gone unnoticed by Queensland selectors.

But Feldt’s horror first half in North Queensland’s 19-18 win over Brisbane last Friday night appears to have dashed his Origin I hopes.

Queensland selector Allan Smith admitted he could empathise with Gagai as the panel finalised a reshuffled backline missing fullback Billy Slater (injury) and centres Will Chambers (injury) and Justin Hodges (retirement).

“It’s hard playing fullback for a team that is not going forward. I feel sorry for him,” Smith told AAP.

“He has done his best in a tough situation.”

North Queensland’s O’Neill is expected to partner Greg Inglis in the centres with Kangaroos No.1 Darius Boyd at fullback.

Brisbane’s Oates is also set to earn an Origin debut as the other Maroons winger.

Smith backed Oates to return to full fitness after missing the second half of the derby clash with North Queensland due to dizzy spells and an irregular heartbeat.

Smith said no incumbent Queensland player deserved to be dropped after sealing last year’s series with a record 52-6 Suncorp Stadium win.

However, Lillyman appears to be the odd man out on the Queensland bench.

The hulking backrower played all three games last year but looks set to be squeezed out of the interchange by Kangaroos forward Josh Papalii and Brisbane prop Josh McGuire, back from an Achilles injury.

Queensland coach Kevin Walters – who takes over from Mal Meninga – said there would be new faces.

“There’s three or four (backline spots up for grabs),” he told QRL TV.

“There might be a little change in the forwards too.”

Smith confirmed Boyd would be fullback after he combined well with centre Inglis in Australia’s 16-0 trans-Tasman Test win.

Smith was not concerned by Cowboys playmaker Johnathan Thurston’s hip injury suffered in their NRL derby thriller.

“JT is fairly resilient,” he said.

Possible Queensland squad: Darius Boyd, Corey Oates, Greg Inglis, Justin O’Neill, Dane Gagai, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Matt Scott, Cameron Smith (capt), Nate Myles, Sam Thaiday, Matt Gillett, Corey Parker. Interchange: Michael Morgan, Aidan Guerra, Josh Papalii, Josh McGuire.

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