Billy Slater cops fresh backlash over David Fifita snub as Queensland face change for Origin 3

Slater's forward pack has come under the microscope after being dominated by NSW in Game 2.

Queensland coach Billy Slater didn't want to talk changes after the Maroons' crushing defeat in Game 2. But it is abundantly clear he needs to make some drastic ones ahead of Game 3, with his decision to snub the ever-dangerous David Fifita looking even more questionable after Queensland put in an uninspiring performance on Wednesday night.

When asked post-game if changes were on the horizon after their 38-18 loss, Slater wasn't in the mood to speculate. "I haven’t even thought of that. We’re still Queenslanders," Slater said. He was then asked again about who he may look to bring in for Game 3, to which he replied: "I said I haven’t thought of that and we’re still Queenslanders, so that’s it ... I honestly haven’t thought about it."

Pictured David Fifita left and Billy Slater right
Billy Slater's forward pack and in particular the decision to snub David Fifita has come under the microscope after the Maroons were dominated by NSW in Game 2. Image: Getty

The reality Slater must come to terms with after Game 2 is Queensland were out-muscled and their forward pack dominated, most notably when the game was on the line in the first half. As a whole, Queensland lacked punch and intensity which almost certainly opens the door for Gold Coast boom back-rower Fifita to be recalled.

The omission of Fifita from the Maroons' 20-man squad for Game 1 was the biggest shock for NRL fans, considering the powerhouse Titans forward has been one of the standout edge forwards in 2024 and played in all three games of last year's series. After making the shock decision for Game 1, Slater said: "I've got no doubt that Dave will get back to the footy he played last year, and I'm sure he will wear a Maroons jersey in the future again. Dave created a really high standard for his footy last year. He just hasn’t quite got to that standard this year."

Fifita was overlooked for Game 1 in favour of Jeremiah Nanai and Jaydn Su'a in the second row and after a comfortable Game 1 victory, the Titans star didn't get a recall for Game 2. On the weekend Fifita showed Slater what he was missing as he wreaked havoc in a dominant display in Gold Coast's 66-6 win over a woeful Warriors outfit. The 24-year-old ran for 195m and had 10 tackle breaks in a dominant display.

It was a perfect demonstration of the hulking Titans back rower's ability. But for one reason or another, in 2024 he has found himself well down Slater's pecking order.

While competition for spots in the Maroons back-row is undeniably fierce, with Nanai and Su'a both starters and versatile Warriors forward Kurt Capewell and Dolphins veteran Felise Kaufusi named on the bench for Game 2, Fifita would almost certainly have a greater impact on the game.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 22: David Fifita of the Titans runs the ball during the round 16 NRL match between Gold Coast Titans and New Zealand Warriors at Cbus Super Stadium, on June 22, 2024, in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
David Fifita has been at his barnstorming best in recent weeks and is almost certainly in line for a Maroons recall for Game 3.

And after a 20-point loss in Game 2, Maroons fans are urging Slater to swallow his pride and admit he was wrong to not select Fifita and rush the Titans star into the fold for Origin 3. Despite saying during the press conference that he hadn’t thought about making any changes, Slater may also be forced into making one in the centres after Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow picked up a shoulder injury, which could see Selwyn Cobbo recalled to the side. But the one change fans are unanimously demanding is for Fifita to be in the Queensland team when they take the field for the series decider at Suncorp Stadium.

The Blues' 34-0 advantage at the break was the biggest first-half lead in Origin history. It is a record the Maroons can only live down by responding with a complete reversal of the display they dished up in Melbourne and seemingly the only way that could happen is through a mass team shakeup.

The reality is NSW's stunning win at the MCG was built on the back of the forward pack, with Payne Haas, Cameron Murray and Angus Crichton having the number of Maroons duo Reuben Cotter and Lindsay Collins. Queensland were stunned early in the match, but the forwards as a group were played off the park by NSW. And the signs the Blues forward pack had their measure was clear after Game 1, where Queensland's 38-10 win against a 12-man NSW hid the cracks in their football.

Billy Slater and Queensland players in State of Origin 2.
Billy Slater will almost certainly make changes for State of Origin 3. Image: Getty

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In Game 2, Haas ran for more than 190 metres, which was more than Collins and Cotter combined. And the fact the Maroons needed Reece Walsh to take difficult hit-ups to work the ball out from their line shows the real lack of strong runners in the side. Equally concerning for the Maroons was their defence, with Queensland missing a whopping 54 tackles to NSW's 23.

Ahead of the series decider, Slater will have some big decisions to make, with recalling Fifita seemingly a no-brainer to add some much-needed strength to the pack. While the size and power of North Queensland forward Luki may also find his way on the bench after bench forwards Felise Kaufusi and Kurt Capewell offered very little.

with AAP