Advertisement

Kalyn Ponga's timely message to Billy Slater amid Reece Walsh's absence from NRL

The Newcastle Knights fullback made a statement after his Queensland rival went down injured.

If Kalyn Ponga is going to win back his Queensland fullback jersey from Reece Walsh, now is the perfect opportunity. Ponga withdrew himself from contention for Maroons selection in 2023, opting to focus on club footy with the Knights instead.

It proved a masterstroke as Ponga led Newcastle into the NRL finals, while Walsh was awarded a State of Origin debut and helped Queensland win back-to-back series over NSW. But Ponga has stated that he's available for Origin selection in 2024, sparking a tricky dilemma for Queensland coach Billy Slater.

Kalyn Ponga made the perfect statement after Reece Walsh went down injured. Image: AAP/Fox League
Kalyn Ponga made the perfect statement after Reece Walsh went down injured. Image: AAP/Fox League

Walsh would seemingly be odds-on to retain the No.1 jersey after some sparking form in 2023 that continued into the first few weeks of 2024. But his facial fracture has come at an inopportune time, with Ponga now afforded the chance to state his case for selection unimpeded.

Walsh will likely miss the next 4-6 weeks after suffering a facial fracture against the Panthers last weekend. If he misses the maximum six weeks, he would only have three games to impress Slater before the teams are selected for Origin I.

During that six weeks the Knights play the Warriors twice, as well as the Dragons, Roosters, Bulldogs and Dolphins. If Ponga continues the form he displayed against the Storm on Sunday night, Slater will be faced with a huge selection headache.

RELATED:

After an underwhelming fortnight to start the 2024 season, Ponga returned to his dazzling ways against the Storm. The fullback a whopping 24 runs for 202 metres, as well as a try assist, line break assist and nine tackle breaks.

He laid on the second try for the Knights when he produced a stunning cut-out pass while diving forward, sending Enari Tuala over untouched in the corner. He was also solid at the back after a number of uncharacteristic errors in the opening two weeks.

Kalyn Ponga in action for Newcastle against the Melbourne Storm.
Kalyn Ponga bounced back to form against the Melbourne Storm. (Getty Images)

Will Kalyn Ponga or Reece Walsh be Queensland fullback?

Walsh seemingly has plenty of time to show why he should still be Queensland fullback, but his absence certainly won't do him any favours - especially if Ponga can regain the magical form that took him to the Dally M medal last year. Slater has previously stated that he's open to picking both Walsh and Ponga, with one at fullback and the other on the bench.

"Everything's a possibility," Slater said earlier this year. "(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."

Reece Walsh, pictured here after suffering a facial fracture.
Reece Walsh will miss 4-6 weeks with a facial fracture. (Getty Images)

But who will get the No.1 jersey and who will be forced to wear the 14? The next 6-8 weeks will probably go a long way to determining the answer, and unfortunately for Walsh he won't be playing the majority of it.

Knights coach Adam O'Brien said on Sunday night: "I thought led by this guy (Ponga) I thought we were quite dangerous with the ball, especially in the first half. Things got a bit wild in the second but all in all, for the first week, I'm pretty with happy the way it went. It'll only get better."