SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES - JUNE 24: Kalyn Ponga of the Maroons offloads the ball during game two of the State of Origin series between the New South Wales Blues and the Queensland Maroons at ANZ Stadium on June 24, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

In the craziness of this 2018 NRL off-season, the retirement of Billy Slater has really gone under the radar.

The game’s best fullback, possibly ever, redesigned the way number ones across the competition played the game.

His loss will be massively felt across all three levels of the game, with the Storm, the Maroons and the Kangaroos all looking for new number ones.

The man most likely to take over the Origin and even Roos jersey long-term has left the game, at least temporarily, opening up an amazing race for the vacant custodian role.

Interestingly, three of the players most likely to battle for the jersey aren’t even full time number ones, with a fourth expected to move into the halves in 2018.

The fifth almost ruled himself out in an interview just yesterday.

As always a late contender could always emerge out of nowhere to steal the jersey, but as it stands I can only see five men in the race.

Kalyn Ponga: The overwhelming favourite to lead the Queenslanders into the new era from the number one is Knight’s ace Kalyn Ponga. He debuted in the 2018 series and almost turned the series on its head from a utility role in the front line.

This would be almost a no-brainer if not for one huge factor, Ponga looks set for a permanent move into the number six jersey for the Knights in 2019 and beyond.

His ball playing skills are amazing and a move into the halves looks like a natural progression. Simply put the Knights’ best chance of playing finals footy is Ponga’s hands on the ball as much as possible.

A shift back to the number one jersey in Origin is far from impossible but it’s a big ask. For all his talent and Dally M points Ponga is still only 20 years of age and won’t have played 40 NRL games by the time Origin One comes around.

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It’s a huge ask to ask a player with that little experience to change positions in the biggest arena our game offers.

That said, if anyone can do it, it’s the freakishly talented Ponga.

Michael Morgan: Another who may be asked to shift position for Origin. Morgan made his name as a fullback and remains arguably the game’s best utility player. It’s not a stretch to imagine the Cowboys premiership winner to be back in the one for the Maroons.

Morgan, if fit, will be in the squad somewhere. With the likes of Ponga, Anthony Milford, Ben Hunt, Cameron Munster and Daly Cherry-Evans and co in the reckoning, Morgan may have to play fullback or revert back to his utility role.

I’m a huge fan of Morgan playing from the bench as it offers a degree of utility that no other player or team can offer. If you’re going to move someone out of position, I think Ponga to fullback and Morgan off the bench looks the most likely.

Again though, Morgan is a far more experienced player across every level of the game than Ponga. It might be asking a bit much of the youngster, allowing Morgan to run on in the number one.

Cameron Munster: Yet another who may be asked to play out of position is Storm superstar Cameron Munster.

The real X-Factor here is the fact that Munster may be playing fullback once again for the Storm. Although I can’t see them shifting their star number six, rumour has it he wants to play fullback, and he looks the best option for those in purple if he wants the position.

If Munster is playing fullback full-time, I can’t see a better option at one. DCE and Ponga will play six and seven with Munster at one.

If Munster doesn’t make the move and stays in the halves for the Storm, he’s the incumbent number six for state and country and surely you wouldn’t move your number once choice out of position.

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Greg Inglis: The fourth and final possible position switch comes in the form of Rabbitohs, Maroons and Kangaroos megastar Greg Inglis.

Although he played centre during 2018 the talk is he may move back to fullback under Wayne Bennett.

Whether or not this happens, you have to believe that the Maroons captain will have the final call on where he is positioned come the 2019 series.

Inglis was Qld’s best during the 2018 series, despite suggestions otherwise, and if Kevin Walters and Inglis himself believe his best position is at one, he’ll play in the one.

Whether or not his body can withstand a full season, plus three Origin games, at fullback is another story.

Ben Barba: The wildcard. Ben Barba, in 2016, was the game’s premier fullback. Before Storm fans jump down my throat it’s worth remembering that Billy Slater was injured.

Barba lead the Sharks to a title in 2016 from the number one, and was by a long way the Super League’s best player last season.

It was strange that Barba was so down on his chances. If not for the presence of Billy Slater, I have no doubt that Barba would have a few Origin caps to his name by now.

If he can return in top form, he may possibly be the only contender playing at fullback full time and therefore must be a look in.

Of course form plays a huge part, but the QLD’ers have five amazing options without taking into consideration a late run from the likes of a Moses Mbye who may open the season breathing fire.

Right now my money is on Ponga but a lot will depend on where each of the above players line up for their club.

Ponga for mine.

21 COMMENTS

  1. How can someone write for a rugby league website and be of the opinion that Ponga might struggle shifting between fullback and five eighth? It’s as if the requirements to get a gig here are to be clueless.

    Not only are the roles so similar now, but he’s a bonafide freak. If he can handle playing most of the match in the forwards on debut then he can handle playing a position that’s not too dissimilar that he’s also usually played in anyway.

    Then to suggest it “might be asking a bit much of the young fella.” Literally nothing fazes him.

    I think it’s also ridiculous to suggest Holmes was a shoe in for the fullback spot. I think there’s a massive chance he would’ve been on the wing still with Ponga at fullback. He’s so dangerous on the wing, why would you have one of those other guns miss out just to move Holmes to 1? Oates or whoever replaces him wouldn’t be as worthy in the team as someone like Morgan or Ponga or you’re suggesting would then miss out.

    These “opinion pieces” published on here are just trash.

    • My only reservation about playing Ponga at 6 in Origin would be a full game in the front line in defence. That is something he is not accustomed to and he will be targeted, potentially limiting his effectiveness in attack. If he does in fact play there for the Knights in 2019 and excels, than I think it could be a great move, although at fullback I like how he can inject himself whenever he wants to.

  2. If QLD wants to be a chance of winning:

    1. Ponga
    3. Inglis
    6. Muster
    7. DCE (although I do have my reservations)
    14. Morgan (if not centre)

    If Ponga is played off the bench like this year then QLD are no chance IMO.

    • @Reg
      Absolutely 100% correct. Ponga starting at Fullback will be a weapon. He is the new generation and from what I have seen so far will develop into a very good player avoiding the flash in the pan second year syndrome…. if he can avoid serious injury. Gifted player a little like Fittler or Phil Blake in their early years going on to greater things.

      Morgan?? Better off the bench when the forwards run out of aggression.

      Inglis definitely centre. Inglis is getting a little too old to play fullback as he has lost a little of his spark which is a necessity at Origin level.

    • Yes, sir 100% correct. A spine of Ponga-Munster-DCE-McCullough with Morgan off the bench gives us our best chance of winning.

      • Damn! Why did I have to give the QLDers tips? Scratch that. QLD’s real best chance of winning is:

        1. Ben Hunt (safe under the high ball)
        2. Cam Munster
        3. Matt Gillett
        4. Anthony Milford
        5. Michael Morgan
        6. Josh Maguire
        7. TPJ
        8. Kayln Ponga
        9. DCE (for the “Angry Eagle”)
        10. Darius Boyd
        11. Greg Inglis
        12. Corey Oates (about time)
        13. Jake Friend

        14. Pick that 13 and the rest won’t matter. But don’t tell anyone south of the border that I told you.
        😉👍🏻

  3. 1. Ponga
    2. Oates
    3. Ingles
    4. Chambers
    5. Holmes
    6. Munster
    7. DCE
    8. Napa
    9. Smith
    10. Papalii
    11. Kaufusi
    12. Gillett
    13. McQuire

    14. Morgan
    15. Wallace/Glasby
    16. Hess
    17. Arrow

  4. I was gonna say pass that bong reg. But I do think 3hats is a time traveller of some sort with all that spot on inside goss he knows.

  5. 1. Kalyn PONGA
    2. Corey OATES
    3. Greg INGLIS
    4. Dane GAGAI
    5. Kyle FELDT
    6. Cameron MUNSTER
    7. Daly CHERRY-EVANS
    8. Josh McGUIRE
    9. Andrew McCULLOUGH
    10. Josh PAPALII
    11. Matt GILLETT
    12. Rhyse MARTIN
    13. Jai ARROW
    14. Michael MORGAN
    15. Joe OFAHENGAUE
    16. Felise KAUFUSI
    17. Coen HESS

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