Ponga ready to step up for Cowboys
At the start of the week, Cowboys NYC star Kalyn Ponga was preparing for a Holden Cup showdown with the Wests Tigers.
Now, the 18-year-old is in line to make his NRL debut against the Brisbane Broncos in a do-or-die showdown at 1300 Smiles Stadium in Townsville.
Winger Antonio Winterstein is in extreme doubt with a rib injury, and with Kane Linnett already ruled out with a calf complaint, Ponga looms as the next in line to help the Cowboys overcome their backline crisis.
It would be a huge test of character for a teenager barely out of high school, but if his under-20s form is anything to go by, the ball-playing fullback should handle the challenge just fine.
The highly-touted youngster has been one of the stars of the Holden Cup since making his debut in Round 20 last year and was rewarded with a spot in the NYC Team of the Year at fullback.
There were signs 12 months ago that he would be a player of the future, with Ponga running for 285 metres in his third game before scoring a hat-trick the following week against the Rabbitohs.
He's continued that form in 2016 with Ponga scoring 12 tries, setting up 19 more and running for a team-high 2,870 metres while also adding a Cowboys-best 124 points to help them finish second on the Holden Cup ladder.
While his silky skills come naturally, the excitement machine credited his Cowboys teammates for making him the player he is today.
Speaking to NRL.com at the Telstra Premiership Finals Captains Call at the start of September, Ponga explained how he was handling the external noise after being dubbed 'the next Johnathan Thurston' by some.
"I don't focus on it too much and I just try to ignore it," he said when asked about the media hype.
"I've learnt a lot this year training with the NRL guys. It's not so much the training itself that's had the biggest impact, but more so absorbing and watching what the best do.
"I've learnt a lot about the game and game-management from guys like JT (halfback Johnathan Thurston) and 'Cootey' (fullback Lachlan Coote), and I think that's helped me mentally prepare for games and not get too involved in that media hype.
"He (Coote) is a great player and the little things that he does for the team are what I want to implement into my game to make me a better player.
"His one-percenters are what sets him apart. He's very good under the high ball, he's got a great kicking game, he's always in the chase, he's always pushing up around the footy and he ball-plays very well.
"I've watched him really closely and tried to absorb what he does so hopefully I can try to include that in my game going forward."
Ponga has spent the majority of his Holden Cup career in the No.1 jersey, and while he has been thrust into the halves throughout the year, he said fullback was his preferred position; a summation the experts agreed with after they picked him in the Team of the Year at fullback.
"It's a huge privilege and an honour because there are a lot of good players in the 20s comp and particularly in my position at the back," he said.
"I was a bit surprised when I heard I was selected but obviously I'm proud and ecstatic to have been picked.
"I went into halves earlier in the year and I thought that I really enjoyed it, but then I went back to fullback and realised that that's my position.
"I had a little taste of half and thought it was for me, but I felt so much more comfortable when I went back to fullback."
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