Kalyn Ponga has admitted he was sad he couldn't make Mal Meninga's Kangaroos squad for the Pacific Championships, but has signalled his intention to return to the State of Origin arena next year. Ponga put together one of the all-time runs in the second-half of the 2023 season to win the Dally M award and best fullback of the NRL.
The fullback's form was devastating for the Knights, but Meninga could not find room for the Dally M winner in his Kangaroos squad. Meninga went with incumbent James Tedesco, despite the form of both Ponga and Broncos young gun Reece Walsh in 2023.
And in an all-time upset, Michael Maguire's New Zealand hammered the Kangaroos in the Pacific Championship final. And Ponga has admitted his disappointment in not being selected after his best season in the NRL.
"Yeah I was to be honest. Obviously playing at the highest level is a goal of mine. And always will be. But in saying that, no bad blood. I wasn't disappointed at Mal, I was disappointed I didn't make it," he told Channel Nine.
Ponga is ready to show Meninga he deserves the No.1 green and gold jersey for next year, but the real battle will start for the Maroons fullback position. This year, Billy Slater made the sensational call to blood 21-year-old Walsh in the No.1 position. Walsh was a standout in the State of Origin arena as he led Queensland to a 2-1 series victory.
Ponga eventually ruled himself out of selection for the Maroons after a turbulent start to the season due to concussion. This came as Ponga was arguably the Maroons' best player across the series in 2022.
And the fullback admitted he was ready to win back his jersey, which will set-up a tantalising showdown with Walsh in the 2024 season. "Definitely, I want to play in that arena...You've got to work hard to earn it. It's not given. He definitely earned that jersey this year and played pretty well," Ponga added.
Kalyn Ponga's teammate reveals startling detail
Ponga's former teammate Connor Watson revealed just how close the fullback came to retiring in 2023, before a staggering return to form that saw him win the Dally M medal. Ponga suffered yet another concussion in the second round of the season against the Wests Tigers, and didn't play again for the next 10 weeks.
It was his fourth head knock in the space of just six months, which forced him to consider his future and seriously contemplate retirement. The Newcastle Knights fullback headed over to Canada to receive specialist treatment from leading experts in concussion and head trauma, before heading back to Australia and making his return to the field.
His second half of the season was nothing short of incredible, with Ponga leading the Knights to the second week of the finals and claiming the Dally M medal as player of the year. The 25-year-old has previously revealed how he seriously contemplated calling it quits and walking away from the NRL at the height of his concussion dramas.
And on Tuesday, former teammate Watson lifted the lid on how close Ponga came to giving it all away. “At one point in the season he thought he was a chance of retiring,” Ponga's former Knights teammate Watson told SEN radio.
“When he went over to Canada, there was a chance that he might have to call it, I know he spoke about it in his Dally M speech, about how he wants to start making people proud of him. One thing that Kalyn does have is a mindset that when he focuses on something and he really goes after it, he’s one of those people where it just seems like nothing will take his eyes off that or break that confidence.”
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.