No pressure, Kalyn.
The lead-up to Sunday’s State of Origin game two in Sydney was already intense enough for Queensland rookie Kalyn Ponga.
Now Maroons mentor Kevin Walters has unwittingly cranked it up another level by predicting the 20-year-old can emulate Billy Slater and become one of the Maroons’ greats.
A fullback was always going to dominate Queensland’s build-up to Origin II with Slater playing his 30th game for the Maroons.
However, it is Newcastle No.1 Ponga who has been hogging the headlines before his long-awaited debut off the Maroons’ bench.
And Walters has not tried to hose down the hype, saying Ponga is destined for greatness, just like Slater who had also made his Origin debut at 20.
“We’ve had many players over the years debut at his age and they have come through to be some of our greatest Origin players,” Walters said.
“He’s a courageous player and that suits Origin. But we don’t want him to do anything different to what he has been doing with the Knights.”
At 20 years and 86 days, Ponga will become the youngest Origin player since NSW’s Will Hopoate in 2011 (19 years and 37 days) and the youngest Queenslander since Israel Folau in 2008 (19 years and 48 days).
But the question remains – how will Queensland use Ponga as a bench utility?
Ponga spent time training at fullback in Queensland’s captain’s run on Saturday at ANZ Stadium, adding more intrigue ahead of his debut.
“How we use him will be determined on how the game is flowing but the good thing is he has the 14 jumper on for us,” Walters said.
While Ponga had dominated the build-up, Walters said there would be only one fullback on the team’s minds on Sunday – Slater.
The veteran will finally kick-start his final Origin series in his milestone game after overcoming a hamstring injury that had forced his last-minute withdrawal before the series opener.
Slater becomes the 11th player and 10th Queenslander to join the 30-game Origin club.
“Bill has been one of the great Origin players of all time. We want to get the result Billy wants (on Sunday),” Walters said of Slater who will play his first game in five weeks in Origin II.
“If you could model a Queensland State of Origin player around someone, he is one you would think of with all his traits.
“We expect him to get a bit of a workout from NSW but it is not the first time they have tried to sort him out.”
Slater scored the last of his 12 Origin tries in game three 2014, his only four-pointer in his past 12 matches for Queensland.
Australian Associated Press