KANGAROO CONTENDER: Dane Gagai has had a successful start to this season with the Knights.
KANGAROO CONTENDER: Dane Gagai has had a successful start to this season with the Knights. Ashley Federgetty IMAGES

Former bad boy Gagai now in the good books

IMPRESSIVE Newcastle centre Dane Gagai could join the list of players selected to play for their country before representing their state, with the push for his inclusion in Australia's Test squad to play New Zealand at Suncorp Stadium on May 1 gathering momentum.

Australian selectors will present coach Tim Sheens with an 18-man squad on Sunday for the match that will commemorate 100 years of Anzac pride and spirit between the two countries.

The national selectors handed out Australian jumpers to no less than six players who had not played for their state during last year's Four Nations series.

Injuries to several regular representative players opened the door to Dylan Walker, David Klemmer, Sione Mata'utia, the youngest players to ever pull on the green and gold, Josh Jackson, Josh Mansour and Brisbane's Ben Hunt.

Before that, Daly Cherry-Evans, James Tamou, Brett Morris, Cooper Cronk, Glenn Stewart, Chris Lawrence and Brisbane winger Jharal Yow Yeh - who was forced into early retirement through injury - all added their names to the list of players who debuted for country before state.

Gagai, one of the hottest young prospects on the open market, has been winning over selectors with his strong performances for the Knights this season, and was close to their best against Parramatta on Sunday.

Queensland selectors are understood to have forgiven the 24-year-old for an indiscretion which led to him being kicked off Mal Meninga's Emerging Origin camp more than 12 months ago, at a time when he had his foot in the door for Maroons selection.

With concerns surrounding the ongoing hamstring issues plaguing Brisbane's representative centre Justin Hodges, the quiet form of Roosters speedster Michael Jennings, and the lack of match fitness of Walker due to a broken hand, Gagai's Test stocks have risen rapidly.

With Storm fullback Billy Slater not expected to recover in time from his latest shoulder injury, it is likely Greg Inglis could wear the No.1 against the Kiwis which would enhance Gagai's odds of a maiden call-up.

Meanwhile, the Kiwis could re-activate Benji

Marshall's Test career to cover injuries among their halves.

Four players from last year's Four Nations-winning side - Kieran Foran (hamstring), Jason Nightingale (foot), Dean Whare (hamstring) and Lewis Brown (ribs) - are unlikely to be available for selection when coach Stephen Kearney names his squad on Sunday, opening the door for Marshall to play five-eighth or fill a bench utility role.


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