THE unbridled brilliance of Kalyn Ponga can no longer be denied, with the Newcastle sensation called on by Queensland to make his State of Origin debut in Sunday’s all-or-nothing showdown with NSW at ANZ Stadium.
Ponga, in just his first full season of first grade, has been a standout for the Knights and will bring enormous attacking spark to the Maroons for Origin II.
With such a short preparation time, the Maroons have made minimal changes to the squad, with Billy Slater returning at fullback to replace the injured Michael Morgan, and Ponga replacing Anthony Milford.
Queensland named an 18-man squad alphabetically, with Tim Glasby the other inclusion – likely as cover for prop Dylan Napa, who is battling an ankle injury.
Queensland coach Kevin Walters said the decision to blood 20-year-old Ponga in a series-deciding match on a hostile Sydney deck had not been taken lightly, but his irresistible form had made the Knights fullback an easy selection choice.
“He’s been playing some good football for the Newcastle Knights,” Walters said.
“He’s been knocking on the door. For Kalyn it’s a great opportunity.
“He’s been the standout in the competition. We understand he’s going to be a long-term player for Queensland. He’s earnt the right (to play).”
Ponga will act as a natural cover for Slater, who still has not played since being a late withdrawal from Origin I because of a hamstring injury, but Queensland officials are very confident the Melbourne Storm champion will play.
Walters said Slater was crucial to rectifying Queensland’s performance in the series opener, when the Maroons crashed to a 22-12 loss on the back of a horrendous 51 missed tackles.
“We didn’t get things too far wrong in Game 1, it was just the brilliance of Tedesco, the breaks he made in the game not too many others can do,” Walters said on radio station Triple M.
“We know he will be in that position again in Game 2, so we have to be better with our defence and Billy is certainly a big part of that.”
“We only came up with 12 points in Game 1, so we have to be better there, but Billy is going to help our attack no end.
“In Origin I, we missed him after he pulled out late. That was a big loss so late in the week.
“We are confident he will be right for next Sunday which is a huge ‘in’ for Queensland.”
QUEENSLAND (SQUAD): Jai Arrow, Will Chambers, Gavin Cooper, Dane Gagai, Tim Glasby, Coen Hess, Valentine Holmes, Ben Hunt, Greg Inglis (c), Felise Kaufusi, Andrew McCullough, Josh McGuire, Cameron Munster, Dylan Napa, Josh Papalii, Kalyn Ponga, Billy Slater, Jarrod Wallace.