Phil Gould makes huge call on Ben Hunt amid Kalyn Ponga dilemma for State of Origin

The Bulldogs supremo says Billy Slater must pick Kalyn Ponga for Queensland even if it is at the expense of Ben Hunt.

Phil Gould has urged Queensland Maroons coach Billy Slater to find a spot for Kalyn Ponga in his State of Origin side. Slater faces a major selection headache with both Ponga and Reece Walsh firing for their club sides.

The pair are locked in a battle to win the Maroons No.1 jersey and Slater must decide whether to keep faith in Broncos grand-final fullback Walsh or revert to 2022 incumbent Ponga, whose 2023 NRL performances saw him win the Dally M. On Tuesday the Queensland coach said he was flirting with the idea of picking both star fullbacks for the upcoming State of Origin series that kicks off in Sydney on June 5.

Ponga has represented Queensland seven times – and was instrumental in their 2022 series win – but sat out of last year's series due to concussion issues. In his absence, Walsh starred at fullback in Game I and II before missing game three through suspension.

Phil Gould says Billy Slater must pick Kalyn Ponga for Queensland even if it is at the expense of Ben Hunt. Image: Getty
Phil Gould says Billy Slater must pick Kalyn Ponga for Queensland even if it is at the expense of Ben Hunt. Image: Getty

There have been suggestions that both men could fit into Slater's final 17 for the opening game in place of either Ben Hunt or Harry Grant. While Grant seems unlikely to make way as he has transformed into a nearly 80-minute hooker, Gould believes Hunt should be the man to make way in the Queensland lineup.

"Harry Grant's nearly at the position where he's an 80-minute player and I think if Ben Hunt is on the bench, he is only covering one position," Gould said on Wide World of Sports' Six Tackles With Gus.

"Do they keep persevering with Ben Hunt at the representative level? Harry Grant has now had a few years there and obviously Ben Hunt's experience has been wonderful for them - but they don't play him in a halves role, they only play him in a hooker role. Ben Hunt has been a great servant of the game and they probably will pick him, but that means Reece Walsh or Kalyn Ponga or someone is gonna miss out."


Billy Slater's utility selection headache

Hunt has represented Queensland 17 times and has been deployed in multiple positions in the team in that time. However, Ponga has also shone off the bench for the Maroons in the past and with Hunt now 34, Slater may decide it is time to look to the future.

Ponga came off the bench in his Origin debut in 2018 as somewhat of a roving creator to great effect. While Walsh has also played as a utility on occasion when he first came into the NRL with the Warriors.

Gould believes Walsh will likely hold onto Queensland's fullback spot and has urged Slater to fit Ponga into his 17. "In the form that he's in, you couldn't ever imagine picking 17 players for Queensland and Kalyn Ponga not being there somewhere," Gould said.

Braith Anasta believes Ben Hunt should be picked over Kalyn Ponga

NRL great Braith Anasta believes the Maroons should remain relatively unchanged from last year and play Hunt off the bench. "It’s not just about having all the superstars on there. Queensland have won series after series without the superstars, or without as many as NSW. It’s about fitting them into the game plan and executing it the right way," Hunt said on NRL 360 earlier this week.

"Ben Hunt suits Origin because he’s not only skilful, he’s tough, he’s fit. He can play 9, 7, 6, 13. Kalyn is a great player and he’d be in every team around the world. Unfortunately, Walsh is a great player too and he’s playing in good form and Queensland pick and stick."

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 13: Ben Hunt of Queensland celebrates after scoring the match winning try after game three of the State of Origin Series between the Queensland Maroons and the New South Wales Blues at Suncorp Stadium on July 13, 2022, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)
Ben Hunt has been a constant presence in the Maroons team, representing Queensland 17 times.