The Kalyn Ponga era has dawned for Queensland and in a warning shot for NSW, the electric fullback insists he can only get better by adding the best aspects of retired legend Billy Slater to his game.
Slater is in camp with the Maroons and assisting Ponga with his play leading into his first State of Origin game as a starter.
Ponga intends to roam around Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night and be on the ball like Slater did in 31 Origins. He also intends to add Slater’s outstanding talk and work off the ball to his repertoire.
"We’ve had a good chat and Billy is very clear and knows what he is talking about. Any time I can talk to him and listen to him is beneficial for me," Ponga said.
"I just want to get as much information out of him as I can.
"We’ve seen what he can do with the ball but people don’t get to see what he can do off it unless you watch him from different views and talk to him. That is what I want to get better at as a fullback and that is what I admire.
"I just want to do my job, play my role, play to my strengths … and pick up some of Billy’s along the way. He does a lot of things I can’t do but that is all part of the learning process, evolving and getting better as a player. I don’t feel the pressure."
Top five Origin debuts
Ponga and five-eighth Cameron Munster are keen to forge a potent left-side attacking combination, like the Newcastle fullback has with Mitchell Pearce at the Knights in the past month.
"I’ll just have to feed off [Munster]. It is crazy what he can do with the ball so any time I can get around him and get the ball off him it will be strong for us," Ponga said.
"If he wants to run and bounce around then I am happy for him to do it. When he does that he is terrifying to them. He is terrifying to me when he does it for the Storm. I hate it.
Ponga won't share Slater's secrets
"I am looking forward to Chez [Daly Cherry-Evans] on the other side and just floating around and playing both sides.
“As a fullback you want to be supporting, sniffing around, always moving and looking for opportunities. It is what I am going to hopefully do."
That will be music to the ears of former Maroons fullback Gary Belcher who said Ponga needed to be adaptable.
"He predominantly plays on that left side but he’ll bob up on both sides of the field," Belcher told NRL.com.
"Predominantly he and Munster are going to be the big danger on Queensland’s left but I think he’ll also be prominent around the middle of the park too, where the best fullbacks should be.
Match: Maroons v Blues
Game 1 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
- Nine Network
"He’s just got to be busy. That was the beauty of Billy’s game. He was brilliant but he was also very busy.
"Ponga has that grace and great speed and anticipation. And he’s a ball player, which the best fullbacks have to be.
"That’s what lets a few of them down but when he creates that little bit of space, if he can’t take advantage of it himself he can tip it onto the next guy. Then there’s that unpredictability and blinding speed once he’s gone through space."
Belcher said whether the Ponga/Munster combination would be as devastating as the Slater/Johnathan Thurston combo would only be answered in time.
“I hope it is and that we’re raving about it but the danger is that if Queensland only focuses their attack in that one area and it gets shut down, what’s next? What’s plan B?
"You can’t just have one side of the field that you’re going to all the time because the Blues will stack it and if they get their defence right all night then it could be a frustrating night for Queensland."
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