Loyalty may have played a huge part 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.
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.
1. Billy Slater (Melbourne Storm – 22 games)
2. Darius Boyd (Newcastle Knights – 17)
3. Greg Inglis (South Sydney – 21)
4. Justin Hodges (Brisbane Broncos – 18)
5. Brent Tate (North Queensland – 21)
6. Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland – 27)
7. Cooper Cronk (Melbourne Storm – 12)
8. Matt Scott (North Queensland – 14)
9. Cameron Smith (C, Melbourne Storm – 30)
10. Nate Myles (Gold Coast Titans – 23)
18. Chris McQueen (South Sydney – 3)
12. Matt Gillett (Brisbane Broncos – 6)
13. Corey Parker (Brisbane Broncos – 11)
14. Daly Cherry-Evans (Manly Sea Eagles – 2)
15. Ben Te’o (South Sydney – 4)
16. Aidan Guerra (Sydney Roosters – DEBUT)
17. Josh Papalii (Canberra Raiders – 2)
18th man: Will Chambers.
19th man: Jake Friend