Ponga set to be chosen to make Maroons debut
Kalyn Ponga believes he is ready to step up into the cauldron that is State of Origin football and he is set to be named on Monday to make his debut for the Maroons at ANZ Stadium against the Blues.
Ponga appears to have been given the nod to make his debut on the bench ahead of Broncos five-eighth Anthony Milford, who was Queensland's back-up utility in Origin I. The QRL has not confirmed the squad for Origin II and will officially announce the team in Brisbane on Monday at 9.30am.
NRL.com understands Milford has been selected in the Samoan squad and has arrived in Sydney to prepare for Saturday's Pacific Test against Tonga at Campbelltown.
Storm veteran Billy Slater is set to make his return from a hamstring injury in the Maroons No.1 jersey, replacing game-one fullback Michael Morgan.
Ponga has received a ringing endorsement from the player with more interstate matches on his resume than any other.
Storm skipper Cameron Smith said Ponga was "more than ready" to make his debut in Origin II next Sunday as the Maroons look to replace injured Cowboys utility Michael Morgan, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a torn biceps muscle.
Speaking to NRL.com after his side's loss to Melbourne, the 20-year-old said he, of course, would not be fussy and be happy to be named in any position in coach Kevin Walters's Maroons squad, which is announced on Monday.
"If I get picked or just get to go into the camp, it will be an awesome experience," Ponga said.
"I think I am ready, mentally and physically. Physically I feel good, but it's not up to me – it's up to Kevvy and the selectors.
"It will be huge, obviously it is the best of the best and that's what I want to be a part of. It will be overwhelming but exciting at the same time."
Ponga was called into the Maroons camp midweek before the opening game in Melbourne.
"It was short, but it definitely made me want to go back and be there this time.
"I got there late and didn't want to be annoying, so I just let the boys prepare – but if I get in there this time, I will definitely ask some questions and try to learn off the boys."
And if he does run onto a packed ANZ Stadium filled with Blues fans, Ponga would take it in his stride.
"I just need to chill out; you have a role to do and it's about focusing on the role or the job. It shouldn't affect you," he said.
Smith said he would be very surprised if Walters does not find a position for the young Knight.
"He's a special player, and he's been outstanding all year," Smith said.
"Even today in a losing side, he created issues for us all day, to be honest – I thought we did a good job on him but we put numbers around him and he created issues.
"The ease that he creates opportunities for his outside men – it looks too easy.
"I think he's more than ready, but I'm not sure what position he gets if he makes the squad, whether it's on the bench or a starting spot – but I think he has to be there."
Ponga produced some impressive statistics - a try, 14 tackle breaks and 207 running metres - but it was below his best against the Storm, according to Knights coach Nathan Brown.
"I didn't think he was good today, he was like a lot of us today, not where we needed to be," Brown said.
"But his attitude does not change and his mum and dad have done a great job to keep him grounded."
If selected for Origin, Ponga will join teammates Slade Griffin and Herman Ese'ese on representative duty after they were picked in the New Zealand side for the Test against England in Denver next Saturday.
Brown was left to ponder another disappointing performance from the Knights, who he admits started too conservatively, and did not build any pressure against the premiers.
"We had a lot of people who went for the big play rather than build some momentum," Brown said.
"Those completions with good ball were not good at all, the long and the short of the game was it was four tries to two and they got two length-of-the-field efforts against us.
"They were always going to get a fast start on us, the way we were turning the ball over."
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