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Best set to face off against team-mates in decider

Knights coach Adam O'Brien has backed Bradman Best's NSW call up and is readying to have other stars in the Origin decider, with Kalyn Ponga and Dane Gagai tipped for Maroons selection.

Best, who made his Origin debut in last year's Game Three at Suncorp Stadium, will replace the injured Latrell Mitchell (foot) at left centre as NSW attempt to win a series decider in Brisbane for the first time since 2005.

The 22-year-old was ruled out of Origin I after suffering a hamstring injury in Magic Round but has been in top form since returning three weeks ago against the Panthers.

Best gets one on debut

"Bradman never lets the state down and he actually played a pretty important role in a win for them there not long ago, so I'm super supportive and super proud of him," O'Brien said.

"I know how much it hurt him not to be there [in Origin I and II], but he does more than enough for us as a club and us as a team, and he deserves to be there.

"There's some great players so I don't want to be disrespectful to anyone, but I am biased and protective of our guys because I know what they are capable of and Bradman leading up to before he got injured was outstanding.

"He has been back for a while now and banked some good performances, which is important because winning form is good form, and he has certainly been playing really well."

Former Newcastle team-mate Mitch Barnett, who plays for the Warriors, is the only other new face in the Blues team which levelled the series 38-18 at the MCG after losing the series opener in Sydney 38-10.

Maroons coach Billy Slater is also set to make changes to his side after Cowboys winger Murray Taulagi suffered a hamstring injury in Saturday night's Golden Point loss to Manly.

Dane Gagai Try

Fellow Maroons winger Xavier Coates was ruled out last week after tearing his hamstring while playing for the Storm, while second-rower Jaydn Su'A was placed on report for a high tackle in St George Illawarra's loss to Sydney Roosters. 

The loss of Taulagi and Coates has opened the door for Gagai to be recalled for his first Origin appearance since 2022, while Ponga is set to be chosen on the bench after a successful return in Sunday's 16-12 defeat of Canberra.

Welcome back Ponga!

The pair were members of the Queensland team which bounced back from a 44-12 loss in Game II of the 2022 series to reclaim the State of Origin Shield with a gripping 16-10 win in Brisbane. 

Neither has played Origin since but Gagai was 18th man in Melbourne and pressed his claims for selection against the Raiders by scoring two tries and running 158 metres from 22 carries of the ball, which included two line-breaks.

Gagai, who has played 22 Origins for Queensland, is expected to be chosen opposite Best at right centre, with Val Holmes shifting to the wing in place of Taulagi, while Selwyn Cobbo is the likely replacement for Coates.

Dane Gagai 2nd Try

Ponga, who has been sidelined for seven weeks with a foot injury ran for 196 metres from fullback and produced nine tackle breaks in a performance likely to see him chosen on the interchange.

The Knights captain began his Origin career in 2020 as a bench utility and he is expected to perform the role again.

"I was pleased for the skipper to come back after such a long period of time, I thought he was great," O'Brien said.

"He did 42km of running on the field in two weeks of skill work, so that's a lot and he is more than ready."

Asked about a Maroons call-up, Ponga told Nine: “I would be extremely proud and privileged. They’ve done a lot of hard work through the first two games and even last year, and if I get the chance to go again, I just want to do my job".