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Dane Gagai: 'It's a special feeling, being back in the 17'

Dane Gagai - put simply - loves the Queensland Maroons and State of Origin.

Coach Billy Slater has recalled Gagai into the starting side after he missed last year's series and was named 18th man for Game II this year.

Gagai said last year he was like every other Queenslander, yelling "come on boys, get it done" as they won the series.

The 33-year-old, who made his debut in a decider at Suncorp Stadium in 2015 and has since played 22 games for the Maroons, earning him the FOGS Dick 'Tosser' Turner Medal, said "obviously it's a special feeling, being back in the 17".

Dad to two sons, Dante and Cruz, and daughter Aiyana, Gagai said the best part  was being able to tell his sons he would take the field at Suncorp Stadium.

"The hardest part (of not playing in 2023) was letting Dante, my eldest know, because he has been here from the start, around Will Chambers' daughter when we came through together, and all he knew was me being picked for Queensland every year," Gagai said.

Gagai with Dante, Aiyana and Cruz at the Game II captain's run. Photo: Erick Lucero/QRL
Gagai with Dante, Aiyana and Cruz at the Game II captain's run. Photo: Erick Lucero/QRL

"Now I'm named to start, but to be honest, I don't think there's too much difference to being called in as the 18th man... any opportunity to get to be called into the squad, whether it's the starting side, 18th, 19th or 20th... it's always a privilege to come into camp.

"The only thing that was different (for this game) was I got to let my boys know that I'd actually be taking the field... last time I told them there was chance I might get on the field, but there's a good chance I won't.... it was nice to be able to let the boys know that I'm in the starting squad now.

"They were so excited... my eldest Dante was very excited. They packed their bags and they're ready. It's like the good old days when I debuted and around 2016, 2017, 2018 when I had Dante in camp and Slater's kids were looking after Dante."

The Newcastle Knights gun said when Slater called him last year to let him know he wasn't in the team - "and it wasn't an easy decision for him, but it was one he had to make moving forward with the Queensland side and winning the series last year" - he reassured him it was "not a 'that's it, you're done' type phone call".

"When he called me, he let me know this was a better phone call for him to make," Gagai said.

FOGS Dick 'Tosser' Turner Medal recipient Dane Gagai

"I was happy that he called me in as 18th man last game... to be able to put this jersey back on, as a starting player, is something I've never taken for granted but it will definitely be exciting for me and my family, and hopefully for the state.

"My goal is just to go out there and do my job, as boring as it sounds. Just to hopefully not let my teammates down and not let my state down. 

"There's so many people that look up to us as players, hang their hat on this jersey and every player that's worn this jersey, so the version of me that you're going to see out there is just one that's going to go out there and do everything I can to not let people down."

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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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