Queensland coach Mal Meninga has had a thinly veiled crack at wayward NSW half Mitchell Pearce by claiming character played a big selection role.
Loyalty may have played a huge role but Queensland coach Mal Meninga has taken a thinly veiled swipe at wayward NSW halfback Mitchell Pearce by claiming character also helped finalise his State of Origin game one squad.
Sydney Roosters backrower Aidan Guerra will make his Origin debut in the May 28 opener in Brisbane after replacing the injured Sam Thaiday (calf) in a 19-strong squad unveiled on Monday night.
Loyalty ensured out-of-sorts incumbent backrowers Josh Papalii and Chris McQueen kept their Maroons jerseys despite claims made by Gold Coast wrecking ball David Taylor, New Zealand Warriors’ Jacob Lillyman and Brisbane prop Josh McGuire.
But in what appeared to be a shot at Pearce, Meninga said character was also high on the selection criteria.
Pearce is in danger of being dropped by NSW coach Laurie Daley after a wild night out at Kings Cross that earned a one-game ban from the Roosters.
“I am thankful that the players in the Queensland side puts the game first,” Meninga said when reminded of the Pearce incident.
“They understand their responsibilities and don’t jeopardise their position or their opportunity to be selected in the Queensland team.
“They know part of being picked for the Queensland team is setting the right example.
“I am extremely proud of who we have in our team and because of that they get selected all the time.”
Meninga admitted McGuire and Lillyman came close to cracking the squad which featured Melbourne centre Will Chambers as 18th man and Roosters rake Jake Friend as 19th.
“They were mentioned at the selection table but it is about loyalty, it is about who did the job last year,” he said.
Meninga dipped his hat to Thaiday who confirmed that he had made the painful decision to pull out of contention on Monday.
“Picking up the phone to call Mal Meninga and tell him I won’t be right for Origin One was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life,” Thaiday said on the Rugby League Week website.
“But I knew deep down that the leg just wasn’t right and I would be letting down the players, the fans, big Mal and myself by attempting to play.”
Thaiday had not played since April 11 but Meninga had been keen to give him until the last minute to prove his fitness.
“He made a tough but honest decision about his availability, full marks to him,” Meninga said.
“When he is fit and raring to go he will come back into calculations.”
Queensland players walked out at Suncorp Stadium on Monday night alongside members of the 1980 Maroons team who played in the inaugural Origin clash at Lang Park.
For the series opener which will mark Origin game No.100, the No.11 Maroons jersey will be retired in honour of the late Arthur Beetson.
Queensland squad: Billy Slater, Brent Tate, Greg Inglis, Justin Hodges, Darius Boyd, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Matt Scott, Cameron Smith, Nate Myles, Chris McQueen, Matt Gillett, Corey Parker. Interchange: Daly Cherry-Evans, Aidan Guerra, Ben Te’o, Josh Papalii. 18th man: Will Chambers. 19th man: Jake Friend.