Billy Slater's admission about Reece Walsh switch as Kalyn Ponga firms for Origin recall

The Maroons coach is considering shifting Reece Walsh to the wing to accommodate Kalyn Ponga at fullback.

Queensland Maroons coach Billy Slater believes star fullbacks Kalyn Ponga and Reece Walsh could both line up in the same State of Origin side in 2024. Ponga and Walsh both impressed last season with the former winning the Dally M and the latter enjoying a breakout season helping the Broncos reach the NRL grand final.

The Knights fullback has backed it up in 2024, with standout performances for his club side. While Walsh picked up a facial fracture in round three but made his presence felt on his return last weekend in the Broncos' 28-14 win over the Dolphins. With just 50 days until State of Origin Game I, Slater is looking to move things around to accomodate both players in the team.

Billy Slater is considering shifting Reece Walsh to the wing to accomodate Kalyn Ponga at fullback. Image: Getty
Billy Slater is considering shifting Reece Walsh to the wing to accommodate Kalyn Ponga at fullback. Image: Getty

Last year for the Maroons Walsh was a standout at fullback after being called into the team in Ponga's absence after the Knights No.1 prioritised his club duties as he recovered from a series of bad concussions. While many have said the choice between Walsh and Ponga is a tough one, Slater has other ideas, believing Walsh can shift out wide, similarly to what he did early in his Origin career when he was deployed on the wing.

"I'm open to anything. I'm not against trying to evolve our game and think about it in different ways," Slater told AAP. "That is how I was as a player. It is about what suits your team. I am sure they would like to be teammates one day.

"Whether it can work, I am not too sure. I watch our players and the habits they have got in their game and try and build a game plan around our strengths so they can be at their best."


It is almost certain that one of the pair will pull on the No.1 jersey in the Origin opener in Sydney on June 5, with the other likely to be named either on the wing or as a utility off the bench. Ponga came off the bench in his Origin debut in 2018 and came on as somewhat of a roving creator to great effect.

While Walsh played as a utility on occasion when he first came into the NRL with the Warriors, when the fullback spot was held down by Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in 2021. And the Broncos star appears the most likely to make way for Ponga at the back.

"I think anything is possible," Slater said when asked if Walsh could play another position such as wing for the Maroons. "I don't build the team now. It is the players' role to build habits in their game and my role to watch them now. In 40-odd days we accumulate all the actions they have built into their game and work it out."

Billy Slater heaps praise on Kalyn Ponga and Reece Walsh's defensive ability

Despite being known for their attacking flair, Slater says he has been most impressed with the pair's defensive improvements. The Maroons mentor says both have made great strides in that department over the last 12 months.

"Their movements off the football are really impressive. Their defensive movements at the back are really good," Slater said. "I value the movements they make without the football for their team.

"Both of them are putting themselves in positions to be involved in the game. That's something they have built in their game and they have grown in that area."

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 08:  Kalyn Ponga of the Maroons and Maroons head coach Billy Slater celebrate victory after game one of the 2022 State of Origin series between the New South Wales Blues and the Queensland Maroons at Accor Stadium on June 08, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
After an incredible 2022 Origin series for Queensland, Kalyn Ponga decided to focus on his club football in 2023.

Billy Slater says Kalyn Ponga fully committed to Maroons

Despite missing last year's State of Origin, Slater says Ponga is fully committed to the Maroons. After an incredible 2022 Origin series for Queensland, Ponga's decision to focus on club football was commended across the NRL world.

The fullback decided to repay the Knights for their patience and help in dealing with concussion issues that threatened to derail his career. And Slater says he understands why he made that decision but insists he is eager to pull on the Maroons jersey in 2024.

"Sometimes circumstances out of your control come up ... but the Queenslander in Kalyn I have never questioned," Slater said. "There were some pretty influential players in that 2022 series and none more so than Kalyn."

with AAP