DANE Gagai has joined Newcastle’s Origin greats after his landmark performances for Queensland during their triumphant 2017 campaign.
Gagai became the first winger – and first Knights player – to receive the Wally Lewis Medal for player of the series after Queensland retained their title with a 22-6 victory in Wednesday’s decider.
Since debuting in the last game of the 2015 series, Gagai has carved out a remarkable record in the code’s ultimate cauldron.
In seven games, he has scored seven tries, equalling the Newcastle record that Darius Boyd set between 2012 and 2014.
He is the only Knight to have scored an Origin hat-trick (in game two at Suncorp Stadium last year).
He has joined Danny Buderus, Matt Gidley, Ben Kennedy and Timana Tahu as three-time series winners. The only Knights to have won more Origin titles were Paul Harragon and Andrew Johns, who both finished as champions five times.
Only Kennedy (87.5 per cent) and Michael Hagan (80 per cent) have better winning strike rates than Gagai, who has featured in five victories in seven games (71.4 per cent).
While the 26-year-old flyer was tryless on Wednesday night, he made a team-high 168 metres in attack.
That took him to 577 metres for the series, the most by any player on ether side.
On the strength of his form for Queensland, Gagai would now appear a leading candidate for selection in Australia’s World Cup squad, an honour that would be bittwersweet for Knights fans, given that he is leaving Newcastle to join South Sydney next season.
The Kangaroos are expected to name a 24-man squad.
Gagai told NRL.com he was “a bit overwhelmed” after being presented with the player of the series award by the man after whom it was named, the Immortal Wally Lewis.
“I haven’t really won anything like this before, especially at this level of football,” he said.
“To receive a player of the series award is definitely something that I’ll never forget.
“It will be a memory I cherish for the rest of my life.”
He thanked Queensland coach Kevin Walters “for the show of faith in me”, after his selection came under scrutiny for game one this season.
Walters said Gagai was ideally suited to the wing, despite playing centre and fullback during his five seasons with Newcastle.
“We were happy leave him where he was,” Walters said.
“He was playing great football.
“He's one of those guys who can play in the centres, on the wing or at fullback. He would handle any of those positions really well …
“Since he's parked himself on that wing, I think he's scored seven tries in seven Origin games. He's been really good for us there and I don't like moving players around too much if I don't have to.’
Newcastle will be hoping Gagai is fit to back up against Brisbane on Saturday night.