Slater gives potent Ponga licence to roam
KALYN Ponga will be given a roving commission in Origin I with the Queensland Origin young gun determined to uphold the legacy of Maroons fullback great Billy Slater.
Queensland coach Kevin Walters has called in the big guns to mentor Ponga, with Slater working closely with the 21-year-old on Thursday and champion playmaker Johnathan Thurston arriving in Camp Maroon on Friday.
Slater played 26 of his 31 games for the Maroons at fullback and when he walked away from the NRL last year, the Storm legend viewed the supremely gifted Ponga as the man to fill his shoes.
Now Ponga's time has arrived.
The Newcastle ace's sizzling debut off the bench in Origin II last year will have NSW defenders nervous about his involvement and Ponga is keen to replicate the high-octane attack that made Slater a constant threat.
"As a fullback that's what you're supposed to do," Ponga said.
"Just get in the game, get your hands on the ball.
"I think all of us (playmaking) spine members, we can all do that, we want to get involved, just touch the footy as much as we can and play.
"As a fullback I want to be supporting and sniffing around.
"I want to be always moving, always looking for opportunities and that's what I'm hopefully going to do on Wednesday."
Slater and Ponga spent about 10 minutes in deep conversation before training on Thursday. Ponga watched intently as Slater stood opposite him, about five metres away, constantly talking as the Storm great zig-zagged from left to right with a ball in his hand.
While Ponga has enormous respect for Slater's achievements, he is equally determined to be his own man in the Queensland No.1 jumper.
"It was pretty cool," Ponga said of working with Slater.
"Billy was there and we had a good chat which is always good. He's very clear and obviously knows what he's talking about. Anytime I can talk to him and listen to him is beneficial to me.
"I just want to get as much information out of him as I can.
"I just want to do my job, play my role, play my strengths and pick up some of Billy's along the way. He did a lot of the things I can't do but that's all part of the learning process and getting better and evolving as a player.
"His work off the ball was great. That's what, as a fullback, I want to get better at and that's what I admire in Billy Slater."
Ponga is relishing the prospect of facing NSW fullback rival James Tedesco.
Last year, in his Origin debut, Ponga sliced through in the dying minutes and looked certain to score the matchwinner when a Blues defender agonisingly cut him down one metre short.
His nemesis was that man Tedesco.
"I was a bit shocked I went through and probably didn't think about the scenario I was in," he said.
"I just went for the corner. I probably should have passed it on the inside. I would've liked to have scored."
Despite the enormous expectation on Ponga, he says he doesn't feel the need to be Queensland's game breaker.
"I don't feel pressure, not right now," he said.
"Every week you go into a game, people are going to target you, so it's no different in Origin.
"I love the arena and I want to be back here."