Kalyn Ponga set for battle with Reece Walsh in huge call on State of Origin for 2024

The Newcastle Knights fullback is keen to get back into Billy Slater's Queensland team.

Kalyn Ponga and Reece Walsh.
Billy Slater will face a tricky decision with Kalyn Ponga and Reece Walsh in 2024. Image: Getty

Kalyn Ponga has revealed he won't be making himself available for this year's NRL All-Stars exhibition match, as he continues to prioritise club footy with Newcastle. However he has revealed that he's keen to play State of Origin again in 2024.

Ponga withdrew himself from contention for Billy Slater's Queensland Maroons team in 2023, opting to focus on trying to help the Knights make the finals after missing a large chunk of the beginning of the NRL season. Ponga missed six games after suffering another concussion in round two, but returned with an almighty bang and eventually led the Knights to the finals.

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The fullback's form was so good that he ended up winning the Dally M medal as best player of 2023, despite the time he spent on the sidelines. His club form came off the back of a selfless decision to withdraw himself from contention for State of Origin, despite a superb series for Queensland in 2022.

Reece Walsh, pictured here in State of Origin in 2023.
Reece Walsh came in and dominated for Queensland in State of Origin in 2023. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The 25-year-old said he felt he owed it to the Knights to focus on club footy, opening the door for Reece Walsh to take the No.1 jersey for the Maroons. Walsh was brilliant for Queensland in the first two games, before he missed the dead-rubber third due to suspension.

But Maroons coach Slater will face a seemingly impossible decision this year, with Ponga revealing on Tuesday that he wants to play Origin again. “I’m not making myself available for the Maori All Stars," he said on Triple M radio. "It’s a special game but my focus is on the Knights and State of Origin this year.”

Kalyn Ponga opens up on State of Origin decision in 2023

Obviously form and injuries will play a huge part in Slater's decision, but it's hard to see how Walsh will lose the No.1 jersey considering his performances last year and his starring role in helping the Broncos make the grand final. Despite winning the Dally M, Ponga might be relegated to the No.14 jersey, in which he could wreak havoc off the bench for Slater's side - a scary proposition for Michael Maguire and the Blues.

Discussing his decision to opt out of playing State of Origin in 2023, Ponga said on SEN radio on Tuesday: "I felt like I owed a lot to the club (Newcastle) and that I'd let the club down. I just wanted to get the club going and be a part of the club being successful.

"To miss out on those six games while the boys were still playing, I wanted to come back and be a part of that. I just didn't feel like I was in a place to step into that [Origin] arena - physically and mentally I wasn't ready to be in that arena.

"I did pull myself out but it was also with the help of Billy (Slater). He was a massive part of that and the conversations that we was only for the benefit of myself.

"When you're younger you probably just see Origin and you want to snap at that, and obviously I still do. But I had some things in my own backyard that I needed to get right and I think we did that last year as a club."

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