Billy Slater criticised by Paul Vautin over left-field selection for Queensland Origin team

The Maroons great has expressed his concerns ahead of the State of Origin opener.

Queensland legend Paul 'Fatty' Vautin has questioned Billy Slater's decision to pick Selwyn Cobbo on the bench for the Maroons for State of Origin I. With Reece Walsh, Xavier Coates, Valentine Holmes, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Murray Taulagi in the back-line, Slater opted to put versatile outside back Cobbo on his bench.

Explaining the curious decision on Monday night, Slater said Cobbo is the perfect cover if any of his backs go down injured, but the 21-year-old can also play in the middle of the park as a forward. “Four of our last six games we have had to replace an outside back, so that’s the first reason,” Slater said on NRL 360.

Paul Vautin and Billy Slater.
Paul Vautin was surprised by the team Billy Slater named for State of Origin I. Image: Getty

“The second reason is that Selwyn Cobbo is a wonderful player, we’ve seen him play in multiple positions. Wing, centre and at fullback for the Broncos. He’s just one of those players that you want out on the field.

"We will build a bit of a plan how to inject him into the game if he’s not needed in the outside backs. Queensland’s been accustomed to do that over the years. We will work out what’s best for the team and Selwyn.”

Selwyn Cobbo.
Selwyn Cobbo looks on during Game I of the State of Origin series in 2022.

But according to Maroons great Vautin, Slater has missed a trick in not picking another forward. NSW coach Michael Maguire has gone with four forwards on his bench, although there are some suggestions that 18th man Matt Burton could be a late addition to the 17 on game day.

"I don't understand why we've picked a winger/centre on the bench. I think we're lacking another big forward," Vautin said on 4BC radio on Tuesday. "In saying that, I don't know who's around, but one that comes to mind is Corey Jenson. Felise Kaufusi he's No.18, I would have had him on the bench rather than Selwyn.

"But I'm not a selector, I'm never going to be a selector but I'm also entitled to my own opinion. Forwards win Origin games. They do all the hard work. I just don't know how they're going to get Selwyn into the game barring any injuries, which we don't want."

Vautin highlighted how Brad Fittler picked Nicho Hynes on the bench in Origin I last year and then brought him on at centre, only to watch him miss a crucial tackle that led to a Queensland try. Fittler also picked Clint Gutherson on the bench in Origin III, and he only got onto the field with three minutes remaining.

But as we saw when Tom Trbojevic went down injured in the early stages of Origin II and Damien Cook had to play centre, having a versatile player on the bench who can fill multiple positions in the back-line is a necessity in the modern game. If Maguire doesn't elevate Burton into the 17 for Origin I, it looks like Hudson Young will be the replacement outside back and Cameron McInnes the back-up half - which will hardly fill NSW fans with confidence.


According to Matty Bowen, who played the majority of his 10 Origin matches for Queensland off the bench, Cobbo is the perfect selection. “He’s big enough to play back-row, he’s big enough to play in the middle," Bowen said on SEN.

“Selwyn can play anywhere next week, I think Billy will have him ready for that. If an outside back goes out, then he’ll slot there easily but he can easily fit in that ruck because he’s a big body.

“Imagine him coming on the last 10 to 15 minutes, playing back-row, getting the ball early and now he’s fresh and he’s big enough. Moving from winger to centre, you have to make those defensive decisions and no doubt moving in extra one or two (positions) in, he’ll still make those decision that are vital and crucial. But him coming off the bench and to do that role and run as hard as he can I’m sure he’ll do a great job.”