State of Origin Maroons News: Tom Gilbert makes Game 3 debut as Felise ruled out Kaufusi

The Maroons face significant changes with enforcer Felise Kaufusi ruled out and a multitude of players in doubt. SEE THE LIKELY QUEENSLAND TEAM.

Cowboys Tearaway Tom Gilbert is thrown into the Suncorp cauldron for his Origin debut after key Maroons hardman Felise Kaufusi was left out of the series decider against NSW.

News Corp can reveal Queensland coach Billy Slater will bleed another cowboy in Gilbert, who continued his outstanding club form with an impressive performance in North Queensland’s 40-26 loss to the Broncos on Saturday night.

Gilbert will be the fourth Cowboys savage to make his Queensland debut this season, along with Jeremiah Nanai, Murray Taulagi and Game One hero Reuben Cotter, who will miss Origin III with a hamstring injury.

It is understood that Gilbert will debut at the Interchange. In only his third Origin game, the Maroons consider promoting fellow Cowboys Clubmate Nanai off the bench to the back row for Kaufusi.

Slater confirmed on Channel 9’s Footy Show on Sunday that Kaufusi will not be considered for Origin III after making a coup de grace to America to support his ailing father Taniela.

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Kaufusi Snr contracted a serious leg infection while on a family vacation in Hawaii and was rushed to a Los Angeles hospital last week, prompting the Maroons and Storm Hardman to book an emergency trip to America.

Kaufusi missed Storm and Manly’s clash last Thursday night and the Maroons were sweating his possible return for Game Three, but the Melbourne forward will not return in time for the series decider.

It’s a blow to the Maroons, who are counting on Kaufusi’s experience and tenacity to set the standard for Queensland on defense.

In his absence, Slater had to consider a number of back row options, including Titans duo David Fifita and Beau Fermor or Dragons killer Jaydn Su’A.

Fifita made his comeback from injury against the Knights and was strong in the Titans’ 38-12 loss. He has played five games for the Maroons since 2019 and his tackle-busting brutality has been seen as a possible X-factor in Queensland’s backline.

But the Maroons’ pick has chosen Gilbert, the 21-year-old arsonist who catches Slater’s eye with his toughness, ferocious carries and spirited defense as the Cowboys reach the NRL top 3.

Gilbert, who has signed with the Dolphins for next season, has been a revelation for the Cowboys this year, averaging 30 tackles and 114 yards per game.

Nanai’s proposed promotion to replace Kaufusi represents a huge step forward, but the 19-year-old once again demonstrated his class in the Broncos derby, showing great footwork to score his 12th try in 14 games.

Should Nanai start, Gilbert will lend some aggression to a Queensland bench made up of Harry Grant, Pat Carrigan and Jai Arrow.

The Queensland hierarchy like Gilbert’s versatility, with the sturdy forward capable of playing in the back row or moving into engineering to support the Maroons’ middle rotation.

Measuring 5’11” and 222 pounds, a North Devils junior, Gilbert has played 38 games for the Cowboys since making his NRL debut in 2020.

While Slater has found a solution to his Kaufusi headache, the Maroons are nervously awaiting star pivot Cameron Munster, who admits a shoulder injury sustained in Origin II leaves him unsure whether he will feature in the Suncorp decider.

Key Maroons duo Kalyn Ponga (concussion) and Munster (shoulder) are in doubt but Queensland is hoping the pair will get the green light from medics.

Munster is keen to play and the Maroons maestro will likely receive a painkiller injection in his damaged AC joint to ensure he takes on the Blues in Origin III.

“The shoulder came up a lot better than I expected so I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure I’m right,” he said.

“And that’s obvious if Billy (Slater) decides to pick me, and if he does, he thinks I can do the job.

“I’ve done that injury before… you just play through it.”

In other selection news, rookie wingers Selwyn Cobbo and Taulagi will be retained, while underfire center Dane Gagai is expected to get a shot at redemption after missing 18 tackles in the first two Origin games.


– David Ricio

Not long ago, test coach Mal Meninga declared Josh Papalii “the best front rower in the game.”

That was 2019.

In 2020, the Raiders concrete column shared the Dally M prop of the year with Kiwi Test and Penrith front rower James Fisher-Harris.

Papalii is fighting to save his career in the country of origin. This great game will not slow down for anyone. It just gets faster.

In Origin I and II, the man with an engine that lasted nearly an hour in last year’s series was replaced at 21 and 26 minutes, respectively.

The Maroons saw Papalii’s body language as he crouched on his hips and sucked in air after the Blues attack came in waves and saw a side of a man few in the game had ever seen before.

When the Blues were recalled early in the game due to an obstruction, the Queensland bench also saw what few in the stands missed, including game officials.

The Maroons saw a false call against NSW – which they will never publicly admit – causing Papalii to struggle back to the side.

Papalii’s 40 yards from five runs last Sunday night in Perth was the fewest yards he had run since starting from the bench in game two of 2018.

There, demoted to the bench, Papalii will likely end up for Origin III.

Removing Papalii all together from the all-important decider might be too much for Queensland.

His character, form and history with Queensland and Australia bring in too many credits on the bench.

But the discussion of staying with Papalii, like any team looking for answers after being pumped 32 points, has been held.

The Maroons beat the blues with speed in Origin I.

Not far out, but right through.

Young legs like Reuben Cotter, Patrick Carrigan, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Lindsay Collins did the damage.

The gutted blues saw this and responded with their own quick feet in Origin II.

Api Koroisau, Cameron Murray and Angus Crichton kept foot on the pedal after a charge from Payne Haas, Junior Paulo and Jake Trbojevic.

Papalii failed to show his world-class penetration.

At 30, he was the oldest forward on the field in Origin II.

Of course we don’t see any of that. We see the blues raging, Queensland gassing and because our eyes won’t deceive us, we all see a champion.

We remember the papalii chasing after Paul Gallen like a man possessed in the 2012 final series between Canberra and Cronulla.

We see Papalii dance with Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook for one of the Raiders’ greatest tries en route to the 2019 Grand Finals.

We see the rolling stone picking up speed and momentum as he punished himself beyond his means to deliver a memorable ankle smack on former Titans halfback Jamal Fogarty in 2020.

Papalii’s performance for the Raiders on Sunday is crucial.

It will show Queensland manager Billy Slater just how badly Papalii wants to make sure this isn’t the end in Maroon.

“I know Papa is thinking about that, too,” Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said at a Friday news conference when asked about Papalii’s decreasing origin minutes.

“He wants to show that he can still play at this level of intensity.

“I have no question that he can.”

When Papalli comes on as a substitute in the playoff.

It will be a man tasked with stopping him.

NSW Origin Prop Master Junior Paulo, similar in stature and playing style, will have the job.

Paulo has to be careful not to wait.

This game waits for no one.

Originally published as State of Origin Maroons News: Tom Gilbert debuts in Game 3 as Felise ruled out Kaufusi State of Origin Maroons News: Tom Gilbert makes Game 3 debut as Felise ruled out Kaufusi

Nate Jones

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