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State of Origin : Queensland Recalls Key Players for State of Origin Decider, NSW Faces Injury Concern

Queensland has brought back Newcastle stars Kalyn Ponga and Dane Gagai for the crucial State of Origin decider at Lang Park next week. Meanwhile, New South Wales (NSW) is dealing with a minor injury issue concerning Bradman Best as they begin their camp.

Queensland's regular wingers, Xavier Coates and Murray Taulagi, have been sidelined with hamstring injuries, opening the door for Selwyn Cobbo to rejoin the team after missing Game II. Cobbo and center Valentine Holmes will now play on the wings, making room for the 33-year-old Gagai to return to the center position alongside Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow.

This marks the first Origin appearance for Gagai and Ponga since the 2022 decider. Ponga, who has been named on the bench for this year's Game III, was the standout player at fullback in his last Origin match, where the Maroons recovered from a significant loss in the second game to clinch the series at Lang Park. Ponga had skipped the 2023 series due to concussion concerns and missed the first two games this year because of a foot injury, but he made a strong comeback in the Knights' 16-12 win over Canberra on Sunday.

Maroons coach Billy Slater highlighted the benefit of bringing in three experienced players with a total of 38 Origin games among them for the decider but stressed the necessity of improving their on-field performance to bounce back from the 38-18 defeat in Melbourne.

"The changes in personnel won't fix what happened in Game II on their own," Slater said. "The game will be different, but we need to ensure our actions make it different."

Back rower Jaydn Su'A, who participated in the first two games of the series, was dropped for the decider. Slater elevated Kurt Capewell from the bench to a starting role, opting not to recall the influential Gold Coast Titan David Fifita, who has been notably absent from the series.

"Dave was seriously considered, but we feel the 17 players chosen have earned their spot," Slater stated. "He's still working to reach the standard he set last year, and I'm sure he would acknowledge that."

NSW announced its lineup on Sunday evening, including another Newcastle star, Best, who is replacing the injured center Latrell Mitchell. Mitch Barnett has been promoted from the extended squad to make his debut off the bench, taking the place of Haumole Olakau'atu. Blues coach Michael Maguire indicated that Best likely would have been included in the series opener if not for an untimely hamstring injury, but concerns about a recurrence quickly surfaced.

Best, who debuted in Origin during NSW's Game III victory last year, was sent for precautionary scans on his hamstring after experiencing soreness. Canterbury five-eighth Matt Burton has been named as the 18th man.

The Maroons team

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