Kalyn Ponga in action for the Knights.
Kalyn Ponga in action for the Knights.

Blues rookie reveals secret to stopping Ponga

Kalyn Ponga's Origin role remains uncertain.  (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Kalyn Ponga's Origin role remains uncertain. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

 

NSW will look to Cronulla's defensive secrets as they go about attempting what few others have done this year: Shutting down Kalyn Ponga.

Ponga's elevation to the Queensland team represents a significant threat to the Blues in State of Origin II, after the Maroons could only penetrate them via an intercept and kick in the series opener.

But Ponga has proven himself to be something else in the NRL this year.

He leads the competition for tackle busts (85) and line-break assists (18), prompting retired Queensland captain Cameron Smith to declare him a must-pick for Origin II.

That dominance has extended into almost every game this year for Ponga, with the notable exception being round 12 against Cronulla where he ran just 66 metres and failed to have an impact via a try or linebreak for himself or one of his teammates.

And Sharks prop Matt Prior - who has been called into the Blues squad for game two - said Cronulla had found the key to shutting the dangerous 20-year-old's attack down the left edge in that match.

"That was a big focus for us, Kalyn Ponga and how good he'd been playing," Prior said.

"We went in there with a plan, every time he had the ball to have numbers around him and pressure him.

"Just don't give him any time, that was the main thing. And it did seem to work."

Kalyn Ponga has been a star for the Knights.
Kalyn Ponga has been a star for the Knights. JULIAN SMITH

Where Ponga will line up for Queensland remains an unknown.

If Billy Slater fails to prove his fitness by Wednesday he'll likely start at fullback, otherwise he could come on anywhere in the backline or as a roving man in the middle late.

Prior's own future is also uncertain, with it unclear whether he will work his way into the Blues' 17 for the clash.

Regardless, he said he was ready to help crack the code of shutting down Ponga with his own experience at Cronulla.

"That will be one of our key goals during the week," Prior said.

"He's electric. Coming into this year everyone had massive expectations on him and he has lived up to them and done even more in his first full year in first grade.

"We will probably look at that game and other games that he has been shut down and look at what teams have done well to shut him down."

Kalyn Ponga walks out for a Queensland training run. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Kalyn Ponga walks out for a Queensland training run. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Prior's Cronulla teammate cast doubts on Ponga's selection, saying he doesn't think the youngster has the size or power to fulfil the utility role for the Maroons.

The Sharks second-rower, who has featured for the Blues in the past two Origin series said Ponga could be wasted in the No.14 jersey.

"It's a hard one because we've only seen [Ponga] play in the outside backs and for years now obviously Micky Morgan has played that No.14 role and because of Micky's size and how powerful he is, he can fill in in the middle of the field and he's really hard to handle," Graham said.

"When you tackle Micky Morgan you've got to tackle him like he's a back-rower because he's as big and as strong as a backrower.

"But then with Ponga he's obviously very elusive but can he defend in the middle? Can you use him as a middle? I don't think so. We haven't seen it in the NRL."

Queensland Coach Kevin Walters. Photo: AAP
Queensland Coach Kevin Walters. Photo: AAP

Maroons coach Kevin Walters however confirmed he intends on utilising Ponga but has refused to reveal how.

"We've got some plans on how we can use him and we'll put that into practice through the week," he said.

"We've got to get something out of Kalyn Ponga, he's not here just to make up the numbers."

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