Why Smith's retirement improves Ponga's Origin chances

Aaron Bunch

Newcastle wunderkind Kalyn Ponga has risen in Queensland State of Origin calculations following Cameron Smith's representative retirement.

With Smith joining Johnathan Thurston in making himself unavailable for his state and country, the Maroons are without an established goal-kicker just three weeks out from the series opener in Melbourne.

Queensland coach Kevin Walters said on Wednesday that brilliant 20-year-old Ponga's goal-kicking could make him a consideration despite his inexperience.

"We've been so blessed over the years with Thurston and Cameron Smith, I don't remember anyone else taking a shot at goal for Queensland in the last 15 years," Walters told Sky Sports Radio.

"It's so important, goal kicking today ... Smith was up around 80 per cent in games, it's a huge thing particularly in Origin."

Cameron Munster (career strike rate of 12 from 25), Valentine Holmes (23 from 32) and Ben Hunt (15 from 36) have kicked intermittently for their clubs over their careers.

Daly Cherry-Evans is considered a good striker of the ball however he would be at long odds to unseat Ben Hunt, Munster or Michael Morgan for a halves spot.

Ponga. Image: Getty

Ponga has been patchy with the boot this season - striking them at 17 from 26 (65 per cent).

And he did dump himself as the Knight's first-choice goal-kicker after having a shocker against the Wests Tigers in round seven.

Regardless Walters indicated he was a potential solution to the Maroons' conundrum.

"He is a goal kicker, so that certainly does put him into the frame if that 's the line we go along," Walters said.

Over the course of Queensland's 11 series win over the last 12 years, Smith and Thurston's goal-kicking has proven vital.

During that time, the Maroons won seven games by two points or less and another two by four points.

Had it not been for their radar boots, the Maroons' dynasty may have been significantly reduced.

"The last couple of years we've won games by a goal kick, we know how important it is," Walters said.

The question is where would Ponga fit into the Maroons backline, with Billy Slater having the No.1 jumper under lock and key.

There's no doubting the elusive youngster's exceptional talent with ball in hand.

After 10 NRL rounds, Ponga is second on the Dally M leaderboard behind Andrew Fifita and he has guided the Knights in the absence of injured skipper Mitchell Pearce.

Walters was well aware of Ponga's inexperience, with just 19 first-grade games under his belt but believed there was a decent precedent.

"Smith, I think had about 15 (18) games of first-grade before his first Origin game," Walters said.