Queensland greats turn on Reece Walsh in huge call on Kalyn Ponga for State of Origin 3

Kalyn Ponga's return has prompted a huge debate over the Queensland State of Origin side.

The calls for Billy Slater to make the huge call and select returning star Kalyn Ponga at fullback instead of incumbent Reece Walsh is gathering momentum after Queensland were humiliated in State of Origin Game 2. The Blues dismantled the Maroons at the MCG to level the series 1-1 heading back to Brisbane for the decider.

Slater's team has come under heavy criticism with a number of players underperforming in Game 2, which has prompted backlash. Walsh is one of the Maroons stars to face criticism having overplayed his hand in Melbourne in a dire performance.

Daly Cherry-Evans embraces Reece Walsh and Kalyn Ponga reacts.
Queensland legends have urged Billy Slater to make the huge call and select returning star Kalyn Ponga (pictured right) for Queensland even if it is at the expense of Reece Walsh (pictured middle). (Getty Images)

Slater's selections for his bench were also questioned with the Blues interchanges proving to have more impact throughout the match. Pressure is growing on Slater to make changes with the Blues heading to Suncorp with all the momentum looking for a historic series victory.

And Queensland greats Scott Sattler and Corey Parker have called for Ponga to find his way into the 17 with the fullback set to return this weekend against the Raiders. Ponga hasn't played since round seven this year, but there is little doubt around the reigning Dally M winner's talent. If he were to star against Ricky Stuart's men, calls for Maroons fans might grow leaving Slater only two days to decide whether to include him.

The fullback is considered by many as the best in the game and would be a special X-factor coming off the bench. Ponga last played for the Maroons in the No.1 jersey in 2022 when he won player of the match in Game 3. Ponga scored a try, ran for 247 metres, made 15 tackle breaks and made two linebreaks.

Ponga was close to winning player of the series. Unfortunately, Ponga was ruled out of Game 1 and 2 last year due to concussion and Walsh took over the No.1 jersey with a standout series.

And with Queensland facing a disastrous series loss, Sattler urged Slater to consider a place for Ponga in the squad. And this means even taking the fullback position over Walsh if need be.

“I had picked Kalyn as my 14 (bench utility) for Game 1 before he got injured," Sattler said, according to The Courier Mail. “I’m sure Billy would be having that discussion now and if he gets through Sunday, Ponga has to be in the team. If he’s on the bench, it will instil some fear in the Blues. When their lungs are burning later in the game and you see Kalyn on the sideline with an interchange card in his hand … that’s a frightening prospect for the Blues.”

Calls are growing  for Kalyn Ponga (pictured middle) to return to the Maroons team.
Calls are growing for Kalyn Ponga (pictured middle) to return to the Maroons team.

Maroons great Parker said there will be a lot of Queensland fans interested in how Walsh plays this weekend against the reigning champions ahead of the team selection. Parker feels there could be internal conversation within the camp if Walsh doesn't perform.

“Reece Walsh is a wonderful talent but he doesn’t own the Queensland No.1 jumper. Billy Slater owned it for a long time but Reece hasn’t been around long enough to have a mortgage on the fullback spot," Parker added.

“If Walsh has a good game against the Panthers, well that would basically seal his spot, but if he has another flat performance, the door has to be open for Kalyn. If KP puts a good game together on Sunday, there has to be some internal conversations."

Reece Walsh runs the ball.
Reece Walsh (pictured) has faced criticism for his Game 2 performance.

Slater would have to make the big call knowing Ponga has only played one game of NRL in three months if he were to join the Maroons camp. Ponga appears unlikely to play considering Selwyn Cobbo could be joining the starting side or bench after the result in Game 2.

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Ponga also could rule himself out of selection, which he did in 2023 to focus on club footy after his injuries. However, few doubt Ponga's ability and it would give Michael Maguire and the Blues another problem heading into the decider.

The Broncos are on a four-game losing streak and are looking to turn their fortunes around this weekend against the Panthers. and Assistant coach Matt Ballin has praised Walsh's attitude in training with the fullback returning to club foot for the first time since round 12.

"He hasn't had a game since he got concussed...he has been animated at training. He is just a live-wire round the team," Ballin said on SEN Radio. The Panthers will welcome back a number of Origin stars this week with Liam Martin, Brian To'o, Dylayn Edwards and Jarome Luai all named to return.