Gagai grateful for camp call-up
Newcastle Knights centre Dane Gagai has vowed to not let another opportunity slip through his fingers as he returned to the Queensland Emerging Origin camp 12 months after leaving in disgrace.
Among the 17 players to gather for Maroons indoctrination in Brisbane were seven players who have already played international rugby league but who are all still waiting for that coveted Origin call-up, including Kangaroos Four Nations debutant Ben Hunt.
Experienced NRL forwards Gavin Cooper (Cowboys) and Dave Tyrrell (Rabbitohs) were given their first taste of what an Origin appearance might entail alongside up and coming superstars such as Korbin Sims (Knights), Valentine Holmes (Sharks) and Tautau Moga (Cowboys) but it was the return of Gagai that attracted most attention.
Gagai had his Origin dreams put on hiatus by Maroons management when he turned up late to a training session while in camp with the Emerging Origin squad in January 2014 and then had to watch on as a frustrated spectator as Will Chambers earned his Origin debut in Game Three of the Series as replacement for the injured Brent Tate.
With Tate now retired, Justin Hodges indicating this could be his last Origin campaign and Darius Boyd unlikely to figure due to an achilles injury, there is an opportunity to inject some fresh blood into the Queensland backline and Gagai is determined to be front of mind of selectors.
"I was obviously glad to get the call to come back in the squad. Last year was a big disappointment and a little speed bump in my career but they've given me a second chance to come back and I'm going to make the most of it," Gagai told NRL.com.
"It's what a lot of young kids dream of, especially being a Queenslander, it's one of the biggest achievements you can have. I remember watching it as a 10-year-old and thinking to play in it one day would just be a dream come true and now that I've been asked to come back to this I'm one step closer.
"In saying that, I'm going to have to work hard for it because there are a lot of good centres who performed well last year but I can only control what I do and I'm going to do everything I can to put myself in a good position.
"I've just got to put myself in the best position so if that opportunity does come that I'm ready to take it with both hands. With Tatey retiring that obviously opens up a spot there but only one person can fill that and there's a lot of good players that can fill that position."
Although Wayne Bennett was involved with Maroons coach Mal Meninga in making the decision to put a black line through Gagai's name for 2014, the Mackay-born 24-year-old said there was no tension when the pair returned to Newcastle to prepare for the NRL season ahead.
"We knocked that on the head when the whole incident happened," Gagai said. "He let me know where I stood and that I wouldn't be a chance for Origin last year but we sorted that out pretty quick because we didn't want that to have an effect on last year with the Knights.
"We've got just as good a relationship as we've ever had and I guess you could say he welcomed me back with a smile, even though you don't see it too often."