Kalyn Ponga was destined for greatness from the beginning. Thrust into semi-final football upon his NRL debut, the 20-year-old Port Hedland product has already proven he can handle anything thrown his way; including State of Origin football.
Just 24 games into his first grade career, Ponga is ranked first this season amongst fullbacks for tackle breaks (85), line break assists (18), try assists (13) and line breaks (11).
Ponga does have his detractors however; but it will be up to him to prove them wrong on the grandest stage of them all. Having overcome such adversity in his short career – including a life threatening brain infection in 2015 – if anyone can keep the series alive for the battling Maroons, it’s Ponga.
What role should he play in the side on Sunday? He needs to play in a position that doesn’t exist… and for a lengthy stint rather than the final 15 minutes of the match in a playmaking position and expecting him to win Queensland the match – which would only be setting him up to fail.
When Ponga hits the field, his role is to act as a roaming playmaker while defending alongside Felise Kaufusi on the right edge while Andrew McCullough defends in the lock position and Ben Hunt at hooker. Ponga may not have any front line experience but once again, he’s more than capable of handling anything thrown at him.
This is otherwise known as throwing him onto the middle of the field and letting him play his own footy – much like how previous Queensland coaches Mal Menninga, Wayne Bennett and Michael Hagan would use their utilities such as the likes of Matt Bowen, Cooper Cronk, Daly Cherry-Evans, Michael Morgan, Paul Bowman and Karmichael Hunt – something current coach Kevin Walters hasn’t been able to fully grasp in his opening three series as head honcho.
Ponga possesses all the traits to succeed as a player atop the NRL’s echelon, not only physically but mentally too. From his coolness under pressure to his humility off the football field, the ‘Whizz Kid’ as they like to call him, has all the makings of a future poster boy of the game. Sunday night is only the beginning of a long representative career for the Newcastle Knights’ number one.