‘Really hard to take’: Gagai lifts lid on ‘tough moment’ with Slater amid Maroons axing

Knights star Dane Gagai has opened up on is career setbacks and the disappointment of being dropped by Queensland coach Billy Slater ahead of the 2023 Origin series.

The 32-year-old veteran of 22 Origins for the Maroons revealed to The Daily Telegraph the tough conversation he had with Slater after being overlooked despite years of loyal service.

“Missing the Origin team was the toughest time of my footy career,” Gagai told News Corp.

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“Getting that phone (call) from Billy was really hard to take. Me and Billy had an honest chat.

“It wasn’t easy for Billy to make that phone call either, because he helped get me my opportunity for my Origin debut in game three of 2015.

“Billy ruled himself out with a shoulder injury and he presented me with my debut jersey. I understood it wasn’t easy for him either (dropping Gagai), but you have to put the team first.

“Billy picked the best team in his eyes and as a proud Queenslander, I will always support Queensland. It was a tough moment but I had to move on and not let it affect my season with the Knights.


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Billy Slater played Origin with Dane Gagai but dropped him for the 2023 series.Source: News Corp Australia

“As disappointing as it was, it gave me a point to prove and it gave me more motivation to show that I was still capable of playing good footy. That’s definitely motivated me for the back end of the season.”

Having now played 267 NRL games, Gagai looked back on his journey having been sacked by then Broncos coach Anthony Griffin back in 2011 after turning up to several training sessions late.

“That was a real kick in the guts,” Gagai said.

“I remember it clear as day. I had an absolute blinder in a Queensland Cup game and I got called into the office (by Griffin).

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Dane Gagai has had two stints at the Knights in his career.Source: Supplied

“I was thinking I’m getting called back into the NRL team and then they told me I was being let go.

“It rattled me, but when things like that happen, it puts a little fire in your belly and you want to prove a point.”

Gagai credits Wayne Bennett for giving him the opportunity to switch to the Knights, before a successful stint with the Rabbitohs under the master coach before moving back to Newcastle.

“When the Broncos let me go, I didn’t know where I was going to go,” Gagai said.

“At the time, I had a second hand BMW and I met Wayne Bennett for a chat.

“I had all my bags in there because I didn’t have a place I was staying at. I had a dining chair in the front seat.

“Wayne looked at my car and he said, “Dane, you are the first bloke I have seen turn a BMW into a motorhome’.

“I followed him to Newcastle in 2012 and the rest is history.”

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