Queensland and Newcastle Knights superstar Kalyn Ponga has put to bed rumours about his withdrawal from this year's end-of-season State of Origin series.
Despite initially being picked in coach Wayne Bennett's Maroons squad, Ponga pulled out before the team went into camp because of a shoulder complaint.
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The superstar fullback decided that rather risk further damage to his busted shoulder, he would have surgery on it with the hopes of being right for next season.
Following his withdrawal from Origin, NRL 360 co-host Paul Kent suggested that the effects of COVID-19 and quarantine bubbles had taken their toll on the 22-year-old.
Kent said at the time that "life in the bubble has worn him down" and claimed he was "long odds" to play Origin anyway.
Ponga took exception to the remarks and has taken the opportunity to clear the air after shoulder surgery in Sydney left him in a sling for more than a month.
“I got my sling off just today actually. I’ve been in a sling for six weeks so it’s just rehab now and back to hard work,” he told foxsports.com.au.
The fullback said he would have loved to have been part of the Maroons' Origin victory under Bennett, refuting any suggestion from Kent that he wasn't in the right head space.
Ponga wanted chance to play under Bennett
“Journos, they make anything up and people believe it. When I got my surgery and they saw what was wrong with it, I had advice from people that I trust and I’m glad I made that decision to get the surgery,” Ponga said.
“Given the extent of how bad it was, it could have been pretty costly.
“The (Queensland) boys got the job done, it was mad. (I was) disappointed, you always want to be in those games. Those are the hardest games in rugby league and that’s the environment you want to be in.
“I was just happy the boys got the job done, we won and celebrated. Everything around the team, and every person what they went through, it was pretty cool to see.”
Ponga revealed that he was particularly disappointed to have missed the opportunity to play under Bennett, who took over as Maroons coach when Kevin Walters took the Brisbane Broncos job.
“It would be (cool to play under Bennett), that was something I was looking forward to,” Ponga said.
“I think Mal (Meninga) was on the coaching staff as well, so to be involved with that would have been really cool.
“I don’t know if (Bennett) is going to be doing it next year, but one day (he might coach me).”
Ponga was a noticeable absentee as the Knights returned for pre-season training on Thursday, with the fullback undergoing rehab from his shoulder surgery.
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