Queensland have been dealt another blow to their State of Origin hopes with Kalyn Ponga failing a fitness test ahead of his planned return for Newcastle.
With Origin sides to be named at the end of this weekend's round of NRL, it effectively rules him out of contention for the Maroons' No.1 position as they look to level the series in Brisbane in 10 days' time.
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On Thursday the Knights confirmed Ponga could not reach the training intensity and volume required in his injured groin to be declared fit to play the Warriors on Saturday.
Ponga was included in the Queensland side for game one in Townsville with hopes he could be fit to play, but returned just days after going into camp before the Maroons were thumped 50-6 in the series opener.
Knights coach Adam O'Brien said afterwards that time away from the club's rehab staff could have been a set back for the 23-year-old who has now missed the past six NRL games.
This time, the club has made clear he won't be available for the Maroons on Sunday week.
“Unfortunately, Ponga hasn’t been able to achieve the training intensity and volume required to return to play,” a club statement read.
“Next week’s representative round and subsequent week off will be utilised for Kalyn to continue his rehabilitation process and reassess an achievable return to play timeline.”
The Knights had hoped to run out their first choice spine for the first time since round two last season against the Warriors on Sunday with Mitchell Pearce also set to return from a pectoral injury.
The Maroons flew an injured Ponga up to Townsville to give him every chance of proving his fitness before Game I, before eventually ruling him out.
Newcastle's coach admits the move may have in fact delayed his star player's recovery.
“It probably has a little bit,” O'Brien said earlier this month.
“In hindsight, I reckon his best chance of (playing in) Game II would have been to stay here and keep working with the group that works with him.”
Boom rookie vying for Maroons selection
With Ponga ruled out of the Maroons' crunch Game II at Suncorp Stadium, it opens up the exciting prospect of Warriors rookie Reece Walsh being called up to the Queensland camp.
The 18-year-old - frequently been likened to Ponga - has been scintillating for the Warriors despite playing just six games now.
However, the teen's coach at the Warriors Nathan Brown warned against handing him an Origin debut at such a young age and with so few games under his belt.
“It’s not in anyone’s best interests to put an 18-year-old kid in State of Origin that’s played five games of footy in the NRL and didn’t play last year because of Covid,” Brown said prior to the Warriors' 46-12 loss to the Melbourne Storm.
Maroons legend Cam Smith disagrees with Brown, however, and says if Walsh has proven at NRL level that he's good enough, then no one should in his way of being picked for Origin.
“How can you hold someone back from playing representative football?” Smith asked on SEN 1170’s ‘Breakfast with Vossy’ programme.
“I just don’t know how you can do that. I’m only talking from what I’ve seen in my career.
“Craig Bellamy as coach and the organisation as a whole in Melbourne - any time somebody got an opportunity to further their career and particularly represent in Origin or for their particular nation, it was welcomed.”
“It’s a strange call from the Warriors. We’ve seen with our own eyes how Reece Walsh has performed at NRL level.
“If you can do that at NRL level, I can’t see why you can’t be asked to make the next step up to play Origin.”
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