Kevin Walters insists it was Dane Gagai’s cracking State of Origin debut last year – and not Kyle Feldt’s horrific NRL performance against Brisbane – that swayed the decision over who would win the race for Queensland’s No.5 jersey.
Maroons selectors have opted for loyalty over regeneration, naming Newcastle star Gagai ahead of Cowboys flyer Feldt on the left wing for next week’s series opener in Sydney.
Gagai scored the opening try in Queensland’s huge 52-6 rout of NSW last year in game three and has been in good form for a battling Knights outfit.
But premiership winner Feldt, 24, was widely considered the frontrunner for the position – right until he spilled three high balls in a 15-minute period during North Queensland’s win over the Broncos last weekend, raising fears he might not be ready for the Origin arena.
It’s understood Feldt’s Maroons jumper had already been printed before his shocker in the Queensland derby switched his fate.
Yet Walters maintained Gagai won the nod simply because he didn’t deserve to be dropped.
“Kyle is obviously a player of the future for Queensland,” Walters told reporters after the Maroons team was unveiled on Tuesday night.
“Dane Gagai’s been in great touch for the Knights, albeit at fullback, but we looked back to last year’s game three and he was one of Queensland’s best players.
“It’s always been the Queensland way to reward those who have performed well in the jersey previous, and that’s why Dane’s in there and deserves to be there as well.
“Kyle might get a jumper in the future but right now we’re pretty settled with what we’ve got.”
It will be an emotional week for Gagai, who will leave Queensland’s base at Sanctuary Cove on the Gold Coast on Friday to attend his grandmother’s funeral.
Walters said his Maroons teammates would throw their support behind him.
“Even though Dane’s only had the one Origin game, he’s been involved in around this level with emerging camps for several years,” he said.
“He is part of the Queensland family and the boys will rally around him for sure.”