Knights dynamo Kalyn Ponga will make his State of Origin debut for Queensland … but how will they use him?

MASTER AND APPRENTICE: Cameron Smith tackles Kalyn Ponga.THE chosen one has arrived on the State of Origin stage.
Nanjing Night Net

Now Queensland have to decide how to best deploy Kalyn Ponga, as they desperately try to beat NSW at ANZ Stadium on Sunday and keep the series alive.

The 20-year-old Knights dynamo was named on the bench for his Origin debut in game two.Queensland coach Kevin Walters was confident veteran Billy Slater will overcome a lingering hamstring problemto take his place at fullback.

If Slater plays, that leaves the Maroons facing the dilemma of how to get Ponga into the game.

In his brief NRL career, he has played three times on the wing and 21 games as the last line of defence.

He also played occasionally as five-eighth in North Queensland’s under-20s.

The most likely scenario would appear to be that Walters will switch Ben Hunt from halfback to hooker at some point in the match, allowing Ponga to enter proceedings with a roving role.

That option would provide Queensland with extra threat in attack but also mean that Ponga has to defend in the front line. Whatever tacticsWalters has devised, he clearly has no intention of revealing them in the lead-up to a do-or-die encounter.

“We’ve got some plans around how we want to use Kalyn,” Walterssaid.

“We’re very grateful we’ve got him into the side this time around … I think we’ve proven in the past with Queensland teams how we can use our utilities in certain ways.”

Walters said Ponga has “been a standout” in the NRL this season, and statistics support that opinion.

The fleet-footed No.1 has made the most tackle breaks (116), most kick-return metres (871) and most line-break assists (13) in the competition, as well as scoring five tries himself.

“The best thing for us is that Kalyn has got some ability… and it’s time for him to get his opportunity and show what he can do,” Walters said.

Knights coach Nathan Brown had no doubt Ponga would have an impact and handle whatever job he was assigned.

“I’m sure that Queensland will have some sort of plan to use him and use him well, as they seem to have done very well over the past 10 or 15 years,” Brown said.

“They seem to have a utility player on the bench, and a lot of us New South Welshmen think: ‘Why did they pick that bloke on the bench, and how are they going to use him?’

“Then they generally put them out there and they generally do well. I just hope he backs himself and I’m sure he will.”

Queensland’s chairman of selectors Gene Miles said Ponga had been “very level-headed” when he joined the Maroons in camp before Origin I and was ready to take the next step.

“His time has come,” Miles said.

“It would be nice [if he could break the game open]. The expectations on the poor kid are great … if he can weave a bit of magic, great.

“But don’t be overawed by it. Get in, get a touch of the ball, get hit a couple of times and welcome to State of Origin footy.”

Walters said that“everyone here has seen how good he’s been for the Knights”, which augured well for a successful Origin career.

“We understand he’s going to be a long-term player for Queensland,” Walters said.“I think he’s earned the right to put on the Maroons jumper.”

Ponga will become only Newcastle’s seventh Queensland Origin representative, following Michael Hagan, Mike McLean, Adrian Brunker, Robbie O’Davis, Darius Boyd and Dane Gagai.

Over the corresponding period, Newcastle have produced 23 NSW representatives.

He will be the youngest Origin rookie since former Canterbury centre Jamal Idris debuted for NSW as a 19-year-old in 2010.

He also joins a select group to appear at Origin level before their 21stbirthdays, which includes Wally Lewis, Mal Meninga, Cameron Smith, Slater, Greg Inglis, Laurie Daley, Brad Clyde, Brad Fittler, Israel Folau and Ben Ikin.

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