Gagai gets the nod as Maroons drop Daly
IT HAS taken a club sacking, more than 80 NRL games, some off-field dramas and a forgiving coach, but Mackay's Dane Gagai will finally pull on the Queensland jumper many believed he was always destined to wear.
After kicking him out of an Origin training camp 571 days ago, Queensland coach Mal Meninga has called on the Newcastle utility back to play the biggest game of his life in Wednesday week's series' decider against New South Wales at Suncorp Stadium.
The 24-year-old Torres Strait Islander has come full circle since a frustrated Brisbane showed him the door following repeated disciplinary breaches in 2012, just a few months after re-signing him to a new two-year contract.
The inclusion of Gagai, part of a reshuffled Maroons backline that will see Greg Inglis move to fullback to replace the injured Billy Slater and Will Chambers switch from the wing to left centre, is one of three changes in the Queensland line-up.
Raiders forward Josh Papalii returns to the bench instead of Josh McGuire who ruptured an Achilles playing for the Broncos on Friday night, and Cooper Cronk, who missed game two with a knee injury, has been named in place of Daly Cherry-Evans at halfback but will need to prove his fitness to take the field.
Rather than relegating him to the bench, Queensland selectors have left Cherry-Evans out of the team altogether, electing to name Cowboys playmaker Michael Morgan as the bench utility.
As well as being able to play in the halves, Morgan has the added advantage of being able to come on at fullback to release Inglis to move back to the centres if required.
Meninga said he was confident the team was good enough to win the decider and return the Origin shield to Queensland.
"It is a decider," Meninga said.
"I've got the utmost confidence in the team ... I don't think I'll need to motivate the players."
He also said selectors had agonised over choosing McGuire's replacement, with Papalii's Origin experience giving him the nod ahead of Sydney Roosters young gun Dylan Napa.
Meninga's only other concern is a groin issue to try-scoring winger Darius Boyd, whose condition will be closely monitored after playing three games in nine days.
Canberra winger Edrick Lee has been named 18th man in case Boyd's injury worsens.
Queensland Origin III team: Greg Inglis, Darius Boyd, Will Chambers, Justin Hodges, Dane Gagai, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Matt Scott, Cameron Smith (c), Nate Myles, Aidan Guerra, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker. Interchange: Michael Morgan, Josh Papalii, Matt Gillett, Jacob Lillyman. 18th man Edrick Lee.