Mal Won't Be Biased
Queensland Origin debutant and Knights centre Dane Gagai is confident Australia's new coach Mal Meninga won't let his Maroon allegiances get in the way of future successes.
Meninga – the man responsible for Queensland's past decade of dominance – began his tenure with the Kangaroos on Thursday, and Gagai said New South Wales players shouldn't fear missing out on selection just for residing south of the Tweed.
"I definitely don't see him being biased. He's a coach that concentrates on winning and to do that he'll pick the best players he can," Gagai told NRL.com.
"I don't imagine Origin allegiances will factor into his selections at all, it'll just come down to who he thinks will do the best job for Australia.
"I obviously didn't really get to spend too much time with him because I only debuted in Origin last season but he's like Wayne Bennett a little bit in terms of success.
"His record with the Maroons reflects that. His playing and coaching career has been one of the more successful ones in the game I think, and the man's life really has been a success story."
What is Australia's gain is Queensland's loss but Gagai will remain always thankful to Meninga for handing him his Origin debut.
An indirect replacement for Billy Slater following his season-ending shoulder injury on the wing, Gagai scored Queensland's first try in the 52-6 rout of the Blues and in retrospect was thankful for the calming influence Meninga presented him.
"He pulled me aside and gave me advice in the lead-up to my debut and that calmed me down massively," Gagai said.
"But what also helped was that he had me in the camp in the lead-up to Origin I and Origin II so by the time Game Three came around I was ready to go."
Gagai said a Kangaroos debut was also on his radar, but was realistic about needing to perform for the Knights first and foremost.
While incumbent centres Greg Inglis and Will Chambers have the advantage – and with Josh Morris and Michael Jennings in the mix – it won't come easy for the 24-year-old.
"Yeah I definitely want to play for Australia. With Justin Hodges retiring I reckon there's a spot for the taking between a few of us too but I can't be thinking about that either," Gagai said.
"Firstly, to earn rep jumpers you have to play well for your club so that's why I'm making the most of pre-season in hope of playing well over the next season."
This article first appeared on NRL.com