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Slater confident in Dearden, Oates replacing Munster, Taulagi, McLean heartbreak for Blues

Queensland’s plans for Origin III have suffered a major hit with star duo Cameron Munster and Murray Taulagi testing positive for COVID-19 and being ruled out.

The news comes only days after Munster declared he was right to go for the series decider, having suffered a shoulder injury in the Origin II loss.

Munster’s loss is a particularly tough blow for Queensland after he was man of the match in Origin I and much of the Maroons’ attack revolves around him but coach Billy Slater was putting on a brave face.

Broncos winger Corey Oates has been drafted into the squad as a replacement for Taulagi while Cowboys playmaker Tom Dearden will make his Origin debut at five-eighth for Munster. Oates will not suit up for Brisbane on Sunday against the Dragons.

Slater said he was confident about thrusting Dearden straight into his Origin debut at five-eighth with the coach impressed with his form for the Cowboys and efforts in camp over the course of the three matches.

“It’s certainly not ideal to have this sort of disruption leading into a decider,” Slater said.

“Cameron Munster is a great player. I really feel for him and Murray because they both worked really hard to get their opportunity to play in a decider. It could be the game of their life and they’re sitting in a hotel room right now. 

“It doesn’t seem fair, but that’s the position we’re in. We’re really comfortable with the replacements that have come in.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 04: Murray Taulagi during a Queensland Maroons State of Origin training session at Sanctuary Cove on June 04, 2022 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Murray Taulagi. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

“There’s a lot of things that I like about Tom … it’s not any one thing,” Slater said.

“He’s a really good defender. He’s a great competitor, uses the footy well.

“He’s a big reason why the Cowboys are playing the sort of footy that they’re playing. 

“We like those habits in our players.”

Munster had earlier been cleared to play after he had scans on his left shoulder after a collision early in the second half rendered him a “passenger” in Origin II but his shoulder injury was only AC joint irritation.

Tom Gilbert

Tom Gilbert lining up for the Cowboys. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the NSW Blues were rocked by the devasting news a day earlier that Jordan McLean is out after injuring his hamstring at training.

McLean was set to make his debut and was named by Brad Fittler to start the decider against Queensland.

Instead, the Blues are now having to replace McLean with squad member Jacob Saifiti now set to make his debut with Sharks veteran Dale Finucane joining the reserves bench after playing for Cronulla in Thursday night’s win over Melbourne.

McLean was originally selected to replace Payne Haas after he injured his shoulder on Broncos duty.

“My career has been full of ups and downs and I’ve kind of been used to it but I thought there might be some light at the end of the tunnel getting this opportunity but it wasn’t to be,” McLean told reporters.

The only problem is that Saifiti had already left camp after being allowed to play for Newcastle for their clash against South Sydney on Friday night. There’s now a mad scramble to get Saifiti back to the Blues camp in Kingscliff.

It’s been a crazy few days for the Blues with Nicho Hynes ruled out after contracting COVID. Thankfully all other players have tested negative and it was perhaps a blessing in disguise that he had left the camp to attempt to play for the Sharks. He’s been replaced by Chad Townsend.

Stephen Crichton and Matt Burton have been retained at centre with Jack Wighton recalled as 18th man while Cowboys hooker Reece Robson was added to the reserves.

Latrell Mitchell ruled himself out of Origin III calculations after the NSW centre candidate said he would not be ready after only just making his return from a long-term hamstring injury.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 08: Payne Haas of the Blues is tackled during game one of the 2022 State of Origin series between the New South Wales Blues and the Queensland Maroons at Accor Stadium on June 08, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Payne Haas. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Queensland have brought in Cowboys young gun Tom Gilbert to make his State of Origin debut in the series decider to replace Felise Kaufusi who was granted him time off to go to the United States to be with his father, Taniela, who has been hospitalised in Los Angeles.

Gilbert has been named on the interchange bench, with fellow Cowboy Jeremiah Nanai promoted to the starting side in Kaufusi’s absence to bolster Queensland’s badly beaten pack from the 44-12 Optus Stadium thumping in Origin II..

Maroons selectors have also added North Queensland utility back Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Roosters half Sam Walker to the squad. Warriors fullback Reece Walsh (COVID-19) is unavailable.

Game three is in Brisbane on Wednesday with Queensland needing to win to prevent NSW from lifting the shield for the fourth time in five years.

NSW team

  1. James Tedesco
  2. Brian To’o
  3. Matt Burton
  4. Stephen Crichton
  5. Daniel Tupou
  6. Jarome Luai
  7. Nathan Cleary
  8. Jacob Saifiti
  9. Api Koroisau
  10. Jake Trbojevic
  11. Liam Martin
  12. Cameron Murray
  13. Isaah Yeo
  14. Damien Cook
  15. Angus Crichton
  16. Junior Paulo
  17. Siosifa Talakai
  18. Jack Wighton
  19. Chad Townsend
  20. Clint Gutherson
  21. Dale Finucane
  22. Reece Robson

35 Revisions

Queensland team

  1. Kalyn Ponga
  2. Selwyn Cobbo
  3. Valentine Holmes
  4. Dane Gagai
  5. Corey Oates
  6. Tom Dearden
  7. Daly Cherry-Evans
  8. Lindsay Collins
  9. Ben Hunt
  10. Josh Papalii
  11. Kurt Capewell
  12. Jeremiah Nanai
  13. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
  14. Harry Grant
  15. Jai Arrow
  16. Patrick Carrigan
  17. Tom Gilbert
  18. Tom Flegler
  19. TBC
  20. Beau Fermor
  21. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow
  22. Sam Walker

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