Reece Walsh and Ben Hunt handed huge Origin boost after Kalyn Ponga's injury setback

The sad news has ended Ponga's Origin hopes in 2024.

Kalyn Ponga's latest injury setback looks set to have major ramifications for Queensland's State of Origin selections, with Reece Walsh and Ben Hunt looming as the biggest beneficiaries. It was confirmed on Monday that Ponga is set to undergo surgery and spend at least three months on the sidelines, but has seemingly avoided having his season ended by a foot injury.

Scans have reportedly revealed a Lisfranc fracture in Ponga's right foot, which will require surgery and rule him out of the NRL for at least 12 weeks. The Newcastle fullback won't be back in action until round 20 at the earliest, meaning he will miss the entire State of Origin series.

From left to right, Maroons Origin hopefuls Reece Walsh, Kalyn Ponga and Ben Hunt.
Maroons Origin incumbents Reece Walsh and Ben Hunt could be the biggest beneficiaries from the latest injury to Kalyn Ponga. Pic: Getty

There are still some concerns the injury could see Ponga miss the remainder of the season, but Knights officials are said to be optimistic he can return at some stage later in the year. Ponga suffered the foot injury during Sunday's disappointing 36-12 defeat to the Bulldogs in the NRL on Sunday, having gone into the game battling a separate hip pointer injury.

The superstar Knights fullback was seen limping in the sheds before kick-off, with fans questioning why Newcastle played him in the first place. Ponga didn't last long in the second half before being pulled from the field, with Newcastle coach Adam O'Brien suggesting afterwards that he could be sidelined for a number of weeks.

"Nothing to do with the hip pointer. It's in the foot, a ligament in the foot," O'Brien said. "As far as I know it's pretty rare, so not great signs for us. It's not good." With only six weeks until the Origin opener gets underway in Sydney on June 5, Ponga would have been racing the clock to prove his fitness to Maroons coach, Billy Slater. But following Monday's news, those slim hopes have been dashed.

Ponga was in a battle to reclaim his fullback spot off Maroons incumbent Walsh, who put in a standout performance for the Broncos in round seven to cement his claim. Walsh scored two tries and ran for 199 metres, breaking six tackles and making three line breaks in a dazzling display as the Broncos thrashed the Raiders 34-10. It was enough for many fans to declare Walsh had the No.1 jersey sewn up for the Maroons.

Reece Walsh and Kalyn Ponga were vying for Maroons spot

The 21-year-old was a standout in last year's Origin series as well, with Ponga of course going on to win the Dally M Medal after prioritising club over state. But Slater hinted earlier this season that he was considering playing both Walsh and Ponga in the same Maroons team, in a move that would likely have seen one of them fill the bench utility role.

"I'm open to anything. I'm not against trying to evolve our game and think about it in different ways," Slater told AAP. "That is how I was as a player. It is about what suits your team. I am sure they would like to be teammates one day. Whether it can work, I am not too sure. I watch our players and the habits they have got in their game and try and build a game plan around our strengths so they can be at their best."

Ben Hunt could be biggest winner from Kalyn Ponga injury

A Maroons side with Walsh and Ponga would have probably meant there was no room for Dragons captain Hunt, who has been outstanding for the Red V in 2024 and a consistent performer for the Maroons at Origin level. Slater has tended to start with Hunt at hooker and use him in a rotation with Kangaroos and Storm No.9 Harry Grant - who is widely regarded as the best rake in the game.

Pictured left to right are Maroons Origin stars Harry Grant and Ben Hunt.
Harry Grant and Ben Hunt celebrate during Queensland's 2023 State of Origin series win. Pic: Getty

With Ponga or Hunt likely filling the utility role if both were selected, Hunt seemed to be the most likely fall guy in Slater's Queensland squad. But the injury to the Knights skipper makes it an easier decision for Slater to make, and Hunt would surely now be favoured to retain his place in the QLD squad.


Hunt currently sits inside the top 10 on the Dally M Medal count with 13 points after an impressive start to the season for the Dragons, who sit outside the top eight only due to for and against. Hunt guided his side brilliantly in the 30-12 round seven upset over the Warriors, with teammate and current Dally M Medal count leader, Zac Lomax, scoring one try and kicking four goals and a long range two-point field goal in a standout performance.