Walters: Why I Picked Boyd Over Slater
Gene Miles described it as the hardest selection decision in his 17 years as the Queensland Maroons Chairman of Selectors and coach Kevin Walters broke down when announcing the omission, so just why did the Maroons select Darius Boyd ahead of Billy Slater?
Slater, a veteran of 27 State of Origin games, was left out of Queensland's Game One side on Monday, with selectors choosing to stick with Brisbane Broncos fullback Boyd.
Widely regarded as the greatest fullback to ever play the game, it was a huge selection shock to not hear Slater's name read out.
Slater missed the 2016 Origin series because of a shoulder injury, returning in Round 3 this year after missing over 12 months of football.
In that time Boyd moved from the wing to fullback at Origin level, excelling for his state and winning the 2016 Ron McAuliffe Medal as Queensland's player of the series.
Despite this, it was still expected that Slater would make a triumphant return from injury for the 2017 Origin series.
Since returning, Slater's club form has been extraordinary for the Melbourne Storm, putting on six line-break assists, eight try assists and scoring three tries of his own in nine games.
Slater hasn't missed a beat, but with Boyd the incumbent at Origin level, the Broncos fullback was always going to be hard to displace, and the Maroons have stuck to what they do best and stayed loyal to Boyd.
An emotional Walters explained the decision, saying Boyd's form over the past 12 months at fullback was too hard to ignore.
"Billy was very close [to being selected]. It was a really tough decision that we had to make around Billy," Walters said.
"He's been a great player for Queensland, but we just felt for Game One [Darius was the right choice].
"Darius was Queensland's best player in last year's series and he was in the top two or three players in the Four Nations last year. Again this year he was outstanding in the Test for Australia.
"The second part of that is that I think it might have been a little bit unfair on Billy to put him under so much pressure in Game One of the series.
"Everyone would expect him to come out and change the world. We've relieved him of those duties and I know Darius will get the job done for us. He's a great player and deserves his first crack at the No.1 jumper."
Queensland did have the option of moving Boyd to the wing and putting Slater at fullback, but for that to work one of the Maroons' 2016 series-winning backs would have to be dropped.
Current wingers Dane Gagai and Corey Oates were faultless in 2016, and Miles said it would not have been fair to make one of them miss out.
"Billy's the best fullback I've ever seen. We didn't make that call lightly. We had a lot of dialogue over it with a lot of different people," Miles said.
"Darius hasn't put a foot wrong over the last couple of years and he deserves his position.
"We had the option of pushing somebody on the wing but Kevvie's been more than impressed with what the wingers have produced in Gagai and Oates.
"Dane's scored five tries in four matches, three in one particular match, so he obviously deserved his spot.
"Corey Oates did everything that was asked of him last year and he's a big body out there. We expect him to do the same thing this year."
With Slater turning 34 in June, there is the very real possibility that he has played his last match for the Maroons.
But Walters insisted that is not the case, saying there is room for Slater to be recalled in the future if he and the selectors decide that it is necessary.
"No, [I don't feel like we are closing the Origin door on him] at all. We have no problems with Billy whatsoever," Walters said.
"I wish we could play two fullbacks because he'd be playing. Unfortunately you're only allowed to play one fullback so we're just abiding by the rules."
This article first appeared on NRL.com