A "heartbroken" Ronaldo Mulitalo has vowed to clear up the eligibility drama that has cost him a Queensland Origin debut and return to the interstate arena as Xavier Coates is rushed onto the Maroons wing.
Mulitalo – himself a late Queensland call-up 24 hours before game two – was withdrawn from the Maroons side at 11am on Sunday with doubts remaining over whether he is eligible to represent the state.
Coates has been called in as replacement in jersey No.20 having been dropped after Origin I's 50-6 thrashing from NSW.
"Heartbroken and lost for words," Mulitalo posted on his Instagram after his withdrawal was made official.
"All I wanted to do was don this MAROON jersey and represent this great state. Although it’s not tonight I promise I’ll do my best to work through this and open myself up to another opportunity.
"For now there’s a series to be won and I got [sic] full confidence in the boys in MAROON".
Following the NRL's confirmation of Mulitalo's withdrawal, the QRL said it had been unaware of the conjecture around Mulitalo arriving in Queensland after his 13th birthday, prior to Saturday.
The QRL plans to "present a case to the NRL in coming days that will argue for [Mulitalo's] Queensland eligibility".
"While Mulitalo has been part of the Queensland pathways system as a Queensland Under 18s and Under 20s player, conflicting information has since emerged as to the status of his eligibility after New South Wales Rugby League made an inquiry to the NRL last night," the statement said.
Fittler reacts to Walsh withdrawal as Blues face own disruptions
QRL chairman Bruce Hatcher had told NRL.com earlier on Sunday morning that Queensland moved to withdraw Mulitalo from what would have been his Origin debut to avoid any chance of legal appeal after the game if he is found to be ineligible.
Mulitalo's own late call-up only came on Saturday afternoon when Reece Walsh was ruled out due to a hamstring strain.
Mulitalo has previously represented the Maroons under 18s and under 20s but Origin eligibility rules state a player must be born in NSW or Queensland or reside there before his 13th birthday to qualify for that state.
The Cronulla flyer was born in New Zealand in November 1999 and, according to previous reports, he moved to Queensland in October, 2013 – just before his 14th birthday.
"It's game day, we've had a shocking preparation for both Origins and now with this debate, if he's ruled ineligible as we're expecting we'll have to move on and do that at another time," Hatcher said.
"It's a matter of facts that have to be checked and documents that would have to be looked at, and there's just not the time to do that now.
It's unfortunate but we'll still win and it'll be even sweeter.Bruce Hatcher
"It's just another thing to deal with and we're moving early after our CEO [Rohan Sawyer] has been in discussions all morning around it.
"The alternative of someone playing while ineligible, and us winning and then being open to any sort of appeal, is just something you can't entertain. It's unfortunate but we'll still win and it'll be even sweeter."
NSWRL CEO David Trodden said on Saturday night he had raised concerns about Mulitalo.
"It seems to be clear," Trodden said.
New Zealand coach Michael Maguire is understood to have Mulitalo on his radar for Kiwis selection at the end-of-season World Cup.
The 21-year-old has also represented Samoa and the United States, but he played for Queensland under 18s in 2017 and under 20s in 2019.
Maroons officials believed Mulitalo was eligible for Origin because he played for Queensland at junior level.
He posted on Twitter on Saturday night after replacing Walsh in the side, writing "God is good. Time to work."
Walsh was ruled out of the second State of Origin game at Suncorp Stadium after suffering a hamstring injury at Queensland's final training session on Saturday.
The young Warriors fullback suffered a low-grade hamstring strain at the captain's run, with Valentine Holmes expected to revert to fullback as he did in Origin I.
A 2019 article published on the QRL website stated that Mulitalo was recruited by the Sharks from an early age, after moving over to Queensland from New Zealand with his family at age 14.
According to a NewsCorp report that same year, his family moved to Brisbane in October 2013, with Mulitalo - a month shy of his 14th birthday - and his brothers, enrolling into Ipswich State High.