Queensland coach Billy Slater believes star fullbacks Kalyn Ponga and Reece Walsh can play in the same State of Origin side. As the Maroons' extended squad takes part in a pre-season camp, Slater admitted that he feels he can find a way to fit both into his 2024 team.
Ponga and Walsh were two of the NRL's best last season, the former winning the Dally M Medal and the latter enjoying a stellar season, topped off by helping the Broncos to reach the NRL grand final. Walsh was called up for his Origin debut last year after Ponga prioritised his club duties with the Newcastle Knights as he recovered from a series of bad concussions.
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Walsh missed the third Origin game through suspension but was a standout in the first two matches. On Friday, Ponga and Walsh both featured amongst the 34 players called to a Brisbane-based pre-season camp.
While many have said the choice between Walsh and Ponga is a tough one, Slater has other ideas, believing one of them could slot into another position in the team. It is similar to what Slater did early in his Origin career when he was deployed on the wing.
"Everything's a possibility," said Slater. "(Ponga and Walsh) both contributed immensely to both the 2022 series and the 2023 series and they're both Queenslanders. I'm sure they'd love to be teammates one day as well.
"We've got 34 players here that have earned the right to be here. Seventeen players will get their name read out leading into that first game. Sure, there's competition, but they're teammates as well. They understand the selflessness that you need to have to be successful in this game."
Billy Slater looks at long-term halves options
Slater is aware that his first-choice halves partners are ageing and is looking to the future, bringing in young playmakers Sam Walker, Ezra Mam and Tom Dearden into the Maroons pre-season camp. Cherry-Evans, 34, a veteran of 22 Origin games and captain since 2019 will likely only have a year or two left spearheading the Maroons and his Origin halves partner, Cameron Munster, will turn 30 later this year as well.
While Slater said he is in no rush to bring about a succession plan for Cherry-Evans, who enjoyed a stellar season in 2023, he is looking to bring in the next wave of playmakers so they can learn from Cherry-Evans. "Daly's playing as good as I've seen him play for Queensland and he's still got that want and desire to go and represent the people of Queensland," Slater said.
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