Gagai creates Queensland history
An emotional Dane Gagai created history on Wednesday night, winning the Wally Lewis Medal after a brilliant three games for the Queensland Maroons.
Awarded to the player of the series, Gagai became the first winger to win the award, breaking down in tears on stage as he accepted the honour.
It was well deserved, with Gagai clearly the best from either side for the series after running for a series-high 577 metres and scoring two tries across the three games.
Speaking to NRL.com in the dressing sheds after the match, Gagai said the award would be something he would always treasure.
"I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed. I haven’t really won anything like this before, especially at this level of football," Gagai said.
"To receive a player of the series award is definitely something that I'll never forget. It will be a memory I cherish for the rest of my life."
Before the series it was widely speculated that Gagai would start in the centres, with Corey Oates, Valentine Holmes or Darius Boyd tipped to fill the two wing positions.
But coach Kevin Walters decided to take a gamble, selecting Gagai on the right wing for Game One.
Despite the Maroons losing that match by 22 points, Gagai was a standout, putting in Queensland's best individual performance of the night as he cemented his position for the rest of the series.
Walters came under some pressure to move Gagai to the centres following the demotion of Justin O'Neill and Oates, and a hand injury to Boyd, but he stuck to his guns and the decision paid huge dividends.
Instead Walters moved Michael Morgan to the centres, leaving Gagai on the wing where he was again faultless in Game Three.
And his coach took notice.
Speaking after Queensland's victory, Walters said Gagai had found a home on the Maroons' right wing after an excellent three games.
"We were happy leave him where he was. He was playing great football," Walters said.
"He's one of those guys who can play in the centres, on the wing or at fullback. He would handle any of those positions really well.
"We just felt his performances since he's parked himself on that wing [were great].
"I think he's scored seven tries in seven Origin games. He's been really good for us there and I don't like moving players around too much if I don't have to.
"We had some good options at centre with Michael Morgan and Cameron Munster so we're very happy we left him where he was again.
"He was outstanding [on Wednesday night]."
With Gagai on the Maroons' right wing, Valentine Holmes stands on Queensland's left.
A fellow flyer, Holmes had a day out in the decider, scoring three tries in a huge return.
But a humble Holmes was quick to turn his attention to Gagai's performances across the series, with the Cronulla Shark full of admiration for his fellow winger.
"He just plays every game like it's his last. He gets in and does all the dirty work. He takes the yardage carries from deep in his own half," Holmes said.
"He finished some awesome tries in Game One and Game Two so he definitely deserved the award.
"You have to give full credit to him for putting together a great series. I couldn’t think of anyone else who would deserve it more."