State of Origin 2022: Queensland bolter Murray Taulagi gave up ‘All Blacks dream’ for Maroons

A meeting with the greatest Origin player in history guided Maroons botler Murray Taulagi away from the All Blacks and into a Queensland jersey. See the full team for Origin II.

Maroons bolter Murray Taulagi has revealed how he abandoned his boyhood wish of representing the mighty All Blacks to chase another dream by playing State of Origin for Queensland.

Taulagi’s one-time mirage has morphed into a full-blown reality with the Cowboys winger to make his Queensland debut in Origin II on Sunday night - just six years after quitting rugby union to try his hand at rugby league.

Taulagi attended Brisbane State High, the alma mater of Origin’s greatest player Wally Lewis, and now the 23-year-old will emulate ‘The King’ when he runs onto Perth’s 60,000-capacity Optus Stadium in a Queensland jumper.
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Taulagi vividly remembers a meeting with Lewis that doubled as a Sliding Doors moment, the teenager diverting his desire to play for one of world sport’s most iconic teams to target another famous jumper.

“I had a dream to play for the All Blacks,” said Taulagi, who will replace the injured Xavier Coates on Queensland’s left wing in Game Two.

“I also supported Queensland growing up.

“I admired both teams (the All Blacks and Queensland) and to be able to play for the Maroons, I’m pretty proud to be here.

Murray Taulagi is happy he chose Queensland over the All Blacks. Picture: Chris Hyde/Getty
Murray Taulagi is happy he chose Queensland over the All Blacks. Picture: Chris Hyde/Getty


“I grew up more in Australia and I played most of my footy here, so I felt it (choosing Queensland over New Zealand) was the right thing to do.

“(Brisbane) State High gave me a good platform to showcase my skills. One day, I had Wally (Lewis) walk into one of our assemblies and to see him come through the school was unreal and then I tried to follow his pathway.

“I am glad I went with rugby league ... and I’m stoked I chose Queensland.”

Mercifully, as Taulagi prepares for his Origin II baptism, there will be no repeat of last year’s Ronaldo Mulitalo eligibility scandal which rocked the Maroons.

Like Mulitalo - who was sensationally withdrawn on the morning of Origin II when a News Corp probe revealed he was ineligible for Queensland - Taulagi was born in Auckland, but there is a small but critical difference.

While Mulitalo moved to Australia at the age of 14, Taulagi arrived in Brisbane with his parents at 12. Under Origin’s eligibility rules, NSW or Queensland players must reside in their state of choice before their 13th birthday, meaning Taulagi is a bona fide Maroon.

The former Otahuhu rugby product only took up league in 2016 after being spotted by ex-Cowboys recruitment chief Clint Zammit.

Taulagi has played 45 NRL games since his debut in 2019, but has come of age this season, impressing Maroons coach Billy Slater with his 103kg frame, finishing ability and clever defensive reads.

“Growing up, I watched rugby union more than league. It was a tough decision (to switch to league), but I’m grateful I made it,” he said.

“He (Slater) gave me a phone call after the Manly game and told me I would be selected for the team and that I would also be playing. I was buzzing, I couldn’t stop smiling, I was jumping around the room. I was stoked.

Murray Taulagi will make his Origin debut in Perth. Picture: Ian Hitchcock/Getty
Murray Taulagi will make his Origin debut in Perth. Picture: Ian Hitchcock/Getty


“I was just trying to play consistent good footy for the Cowboys, so to be where I am now, I have exceeded my goals for this year, so I am pretty stoked to be in the position I am.

“This is just unreal.”

Most Kiwi kids say their idol is NRL and All Blacks legend Sonny Bill Williams - but Taulagi nominated a more famous global star.

“I’m going off rugby league here but I’m a big fan of LeBron James (NBA legend),” he said.

“The way he handles himself, his recovery and his professionalism, I admire that a lot and I like the way he puts his team first.”



SLATER DEFENDS OATES SNUB


Maroons coach Billy Slater has defended his decision to overlook Corey Oates for Cowboys flyer Murray Taulagi after declaring the Broncos winger was in the best form of his career.

Slater confirmed on Monday morning that Taulagi will make his State of Origin debut for Queensland in Sunday’s second game of the series in Perth.

Taulagi edged out Oates for the left wing spot vacated by the injured Xavier Coates (ankle) – a selection that has divided Maroons fans.

Corey Oates is back in Maroons camp for the first time since 2019, but is set to miss out on the starting squad. Picture: AAP.
Corey Oates is back in Maroons camp for the first time since 2019, but is set to miss out on the starting squad. Picture: AAP.

Oates, 27, played the last of his eight Origin games for the Maroons in 2019, but has roared back to life in 2022 to re-enter the Queensland mix.

With 110 NRL tries next to his name, Oates has crossed 12 times for the resurgent Broncos this season and is averaging 164m with the ball.

Taulagi was a reserve player in Queensland’s Origin I squad and Slater said he was the next cab off the rank.

“He has certainly earned his opportunity,” he said.

“He was part of our 22 in camp one. Those guys weren’t here for an experience or holiday, they were here because they’re next in line.
“Murray was the first guy I thought of when Xavier went down. The other guy was Hamiso (Tabuai-Fidow), but he’s out with a head injury and won’t be part of this week.

“Murray was really close to playing game one, to be honest.”

Taulagi will partner Cowboys teammate Valentine Holmes on Queensland’s left edge, but Slater said there club combination had nothing to do with the winger’s selection.

Murray Taulagi will get the nod over Oates, after an impressive 2022 season for the Cowboys so far. Picture: NRL Photos.
Murray Taulagi will get the nod over Oates, after an impressive 2022 season for the Cowboys so far. Picture: NRL Photos.

“It helps that Murray plays alongside Val every week but that’s not the reason why he’s in the team,” he said.

“He is in the team because of his own actions and what he brings to his footy teams.

“It just so happens that he’ll play alongside Val and that’s going to help him.

“He has earned his opportunity from his own actions.”

Oates made his Origin debut in 2016 and looked certain for a long career in the Maroons jersey before being dropped in 2019.

His form over the past two years has been poor, prompting Broncos coach Kevin Walters to drop him, but Oates has bounced back in emphatic fashion in 2022 to secure a spot in Queensland’s extended squad.

“Corey has been playing great footy this year,” Slater said.

“He has played for Queensland before. To be honest, I don’t know if I’ve seen Corey play any better than what he’s played this year.

“He has earned his opportunity in the 22 and we are a 22-man squad.

Lindsay Collins is set to make his first start for the Maroons following the injury to Reuben Cotter. Picture: Getty Images.
Lindsay Collins is set to make his first start for the Maroons following the injury to Reuben Cotter. Picture: Getty Images.

Slater confirmed Roosters prop Lindsay Collins would make his first starting appearance for the Maroons in the front row, with Titans captain Tino Fa’asuamaleaui replacing injured lock Reuben Cotter (hamstring).

Game One star Pat Carrigan will remain on the bench alongside recalled forward Jai Arrow, who didn’t feature in the series-opener and was banned from playing in last year’s dead-rubber after breaching Covid protocols.

“We thought that was the best thing for our team,” Slater said.

“Lindsay has been exceptional and was close to starting in game one. He brings a lot to our side.

“It is a tough thought process because Patty could start and do a great job. We just think it’s best for our team that Lindsay starts and Patty comes off the bench.”

Originally published as State of Origin 2022: Queensland bolter Murray Taulagi gave up ‘All Blacks dream’ for Maroons