Mal Meninga predicts last-minute switch that Billy Slater will make for State of Origin 2

The Maroons coach has come under fire for his team selection.

Maroons legend Mal Meninga has predicted coach Billy Slater will make a surprise change ahead of Game 2 after not naming an outside back on the bench. Slater has prompted plenty of debate since Monday having stunned Queensland supporters in dropping Selwyn Cobbo from the Maroons squad.

Cobbo was used as the utility in Game 1 and was immediately called upon when Reece Walsh was ruled out of the game after a high-shot that left him out cold on the floor in the seventh minute. Cobbo slotted into the backline with ease as the Maroons ran away with the game against a 12 men NSW side.

Billy Slater talks to Reece Walsh and Mal Meninga reacts.
Maroons legend Mal Meninga (pictured) has predicted coach Billy Slater will make a surprise change and bring Dane Gagai into the 17 matchday squad after the injury to Reece Walsh (pictured middle) in Game 1. (Getty Images)

However, Slater has opted to change the winning formula and claimed Cobbo wasn't selected due to his injuries leading into Game 2. This has caused controversy with the likes of Corey Parker and Paul Gallen questioning the decision.

This could leave Kurt Capewell, selected on the bench for Game 2, as the player who would need to cover a backline position if a starter was ruled out or came off injured. This has left many Maroons fans perplexed and Kangaroos coach Meninga believes Slater might make a late change to his 17 before kick-off.

The NRL legend has predicted former Origin star Dane Gagai will move onto the bench for Capewell to cover the backline. Gagai hasn't played Origin since 2022, but was a mainstay in the team for a number of years and always lifted for the occasion. And Meninga is backing the outside back to find his way into the team. “I reckon there's a chance of that (Gagai being in the 17-man squad), there’s every chance of that,” Meninga said on SEN Radio.

“When you look at Game I, you look the player workload, some of the edge backrowers, this is not taking into account Reece (Walsh) being knocked out… the edge backrowers on both sides were under pressure and played a lot of minutes, and came up with a few missed tackles.

“So, I’m also thinking that from a bench point of view, getting more value out of your bench, I think you rest your 11 and 12 at some stage during the game as well and put some fresh bodies on, I think that’s really important when it comes to your defensive systems.”

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Meninga was confident carrying an outside back, that could also put a shift in at the backrow position, was better than carrying another forward who might struggle if shifted to centre. This was evident for the Blues in the first game and the Maroons.

“The other thing I think the selectors probably are doing, if anything happens to a Queenslander, if they get a couple of HIAs particularly out wide, well Dane is on the bench at 18, so even throughout the game there’s a chance,” Meninga added. “It happened in Game I, we seen (Felise) Kaufusi come on and played a number of minutes, and did really well setting up the middle.

“The same could happen for Dane Gagai, I feel that’s two reason why they’ve gone with the team they have. I still believe that carrying an outside back that can move into the backrow is probably a better option than the other way around.”

On Tuesday, speaking on SEN Radio, Maroons great Parker also questioned whether dropping Cobbo made sense for the team makeup. The former forward claimed Slater would cop backlash for the decision with the Blues naming what appears to be a stronger side.

And Maroons great Parker has questioned his former teammate's call in dropping Cobbo from the team. “It’s going to be a huge story,” Parker said on SEN Radio. “It’s going to be a story that south of the border they will be rubbing their hands together, rubbing their hands together and just trying to concoct whatever they want to concoct.

“(They will) just tee off on us to be fair, that’s what they’ll do because in NSW everything has happened rosey for them, the three M’s back in the team for them, Mitchell, Murray and also Moses, then you’ve got Dylan Edwards who comes into fullback.”

In Game 1, Cobbo slotted in the backline, and despite the Blues being a man down for 73 minutes, was fantastic off the bench. He ran for 167 metres, had one linebreak and two linebreak assists. Slater put down his absence to Cobbo carrying a number of injuries across the last few weeks.

Dane Gagai looks on during State of Origin.
Dane Gagai (pictured) has not played State of Origin since 2022.