Billy Slater hits back at journo over State of Origin question as David Fifita act emerges

Slater made a telling revelation about the controversial snub of David Fifita.

Billy Slater was in a bullish mood speaking with the media on Monday after confirming his Queensland side for the State of Origin opener in Sydney on June 5. The omission of David Fifita from the Maroons' 20-man squad 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.

Fifita was overlooked in favour of Jeremiah Nanai and Jaydn Su'a in the second row, with Parramatta forward J'Maine Hopgood earning his Queensland debut on the bench. Hopgood was part of Slater's Maroons extended squad last year but didn't make the run-on side as the Queenslanders won their second consecutive series.

Pictured left to right is Maroons State of Origin coach Billy Slater and David Fifita.
Maroons coach Billy Slater explained the contentious State of Origin snub of David Fifita and hit back at a journo in a prickly exchange on Monday. Pic: Getty

Hopgood is an offloading machine and the hard-working, hard-running and crafty backrower was a revelation in his first season with the Eels last year after making the switch from Penrith, where he was afforded limited opportunities. Hopgood has continued his strong form into 2024, despite the struggles of his Parramatta side.


Slater inevitably fielded plenty of questions about Fifita's omission from his Maroons side but was left bristling after one reporter queried Hopgood's selection on the bench. The suggestion was that the Maroons might benefit more from starting a “high workrate player” such as Hopgood, rather than bringing him off the bench. But Slater hit back at the journo and insisted there was much more to Hopgood's game.

“We’ll talk to the coaches and work out what our best 13 looks like in terms of starting and then who comes off the bench. That’ll happen as the week goes on but he’s much more than a high work rate player, you’ve got to watch him a bit closer,” he said to the reporter.

Seen here, Eels forward J'Maine Hopgood in the NRL.
J'Maine Hopgood's superb form for the Eels over the last two seasons in the NRL has earned him an Origin call up to make his Maroons debut in 2024. Pic: Getty

Slater also explained the contentious decision to leave out Fifita, which came as a genuine shock to most. Despite being sidelined with injury at the beginning of the season, Fifita has returned in style with a succession of huge performances for the much improved Titans - including in Sunday's shock win over Brisbane. But Slater says the hulking edge forward has still not returned to his form from 2023.

“This team doesn’t get selected over the last 24 hours, it’s a collection of habits over the course of the year and what players have done in the past,” Slater said. “I wouldn’t say comfortable, that’s not what I feel right now. Dave created a really high standard for his footy last year. He just hasn’t quite got to that standard this year.”

The Maroons coach then went on to reveal a classy response from Fifita to his shock Origin snub and said the 24-year-old took the blow "like a true Queenslander" when Slater phoned the forward to inform him of his decision. "I spoke to Dave last night, he's taken the disappointing news like a true Queenslander.

“He wished the best for the footy team. He further re-iterated that with a text message afterwards. I’ve got no doubt that David will get back to the footy that he did last year and will wear a Maroons jersey in the future again.”

Seen here, David Fifita playing Origin with the Maroons in 2023.
David Fifita was a shock omission from Billy Slater's Maroons squad after playing in all three games last year. Pic: Getty

There were few other surprises in Slater's Maroons side for Game I, with Tom Dearden winning the race to replace Cameron Munster at five-eighth after beating Ezra Mam (who is in the 20-player squad) to the spot. Slater has gone with a fairly unchanged back-line, with Reece Walsh, Xavier Coates, Valentine Holmes, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Murray Taulagi, while Daly Cherry-Evans is the halfback and captain.

Reuben Cotter and Lindsay Collins are the front-rowers and Patrick Carrigan is the lock, while Ben Hunt will be named at hooker and Harry Grant on the bench. Another surprise inclusion on the bench is Selwyn Cobbo, with the Broncos centre unable to force his way back into the starting side after missing Game III last year. His inclusion gives Slater options if any of his backline stars goes down injured or has to leave the field for an HIA.

  1. Reece Walsh

  2. Xavier Coates

  3. Valentine Holmes

  4. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow

  5. Murray Taulagi

  6. Tom Dearden

  7. Daly Cherry-Evans (c)

  8. Reuben Cotter

  9. Ben Hunt

  10. Lindsay Collins

  11. Jaydn Su’a

  12. Jeremiah Nanai

  13. Patrick Carrigan

  14. Harry Grant

  15. Moeaki Fotuaika

  16. J’Maine Hopgood

  17. Selwyn Cobbo

Reserves: 18. Felise Kaufusi, 19. Brendan Piakura, 20. Ezra Mam

with AAP