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Like a rugby league version of Santa Claus, Maroons coach Billy Slater is always watching.

It was time spent poring over hours of footage that gave Slater the confidence to bring Jeremiah Nanai back into the fold for Game Two, despite the Cowboys back-rower having only played 50 minutes of football after returning from a four-game suspension. 

The bold choice was repaid in spades, with Nanai crossing for the final try in a 32-6 demolition of the Blues, as Slater enjoyed his second series win in as many years as head coach. 

Billy gave me a call when I got suspended and the advice that he gave me then gave me a lot of confidence, knowing that I could picked in the second game.

Jeremiah Nanai

"That gave me full confidence and made me want to go out there and do my job.

“I worked on a lot of things like he told me to.

“He's an awesome coach – he gets around all the boys, even the young boys, and helps them out with things that they need to improve on in their game.

“He obviously was a great player, so he's been through all this and he knows what he’s doing. Everyone says that he puts hours and hours into every individual player that he looks at."

Every try from Ampol State of Origin II, 2023

The move to select Nanai over more experienced options like Felise Kaufusi raised some eyebrows prior to Game Two, given his slow start to the season which included time spent on the sidelines due to both injury and suspension.

But after producing an impressive performance for the Cowboys in a big win over the Storm in Round 14 with a try, 118 run metres and a linebreak, Slater knew he was the right player to help fill the void left by injuries to Tom Gilbert and Jai Arrow.

“I think the thing that gave me confidence in Jeremiah coming back into the team is that [when] he did come back from suspension I felt that was probably the most energy he’s had in his footy all year,” Slater said prior to Origin II. 

"He’s a Queenslander, and he’s done the job before.”

A noted try-scorer, particularly off kicks, the 2022 Dally M Rookie of the Year capped off his Origin return by heaping more pain on New South Wales by scoring his side's sixth four-pointer. 

Nanai puts the icing on the cake

“The kick went up and I thought I was going to get it, but it went too far to the right," he said of his first Origin try.

“I just jumped on there as soon as possible. It was my first try, so hopefully many more to come. I was trying to do a celebration, but all the boys scrambled in [and stopped me]."

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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