Wayne Bennett calls out glaring truth about Kalyn Ponga ahead of Origin return for Queensland

Bennett admits Queensland have taken a big 'risk' for the Origin decider.

Wayne Bennett says Maroons coach Billy Slater has taken a massive "risk" by picking Kalyn Ponga for the State of Origin decider after a lengthy stint on the sidelines for the Newcastle captain. Ponga spent 11 weeks on the sidelines after suffering a foot injury in round 7 but returned to the NRL in round 18 and was electric in the Knights' 16-12 win over the Raiders.

Ponga's impressive return was all the evidence Slater needed to pick the reigning Dally Me Medallist for the crunch Game 3 decider at Suncorp Stadium. Ponga has been named on the bench and is expected to be used in the middle for the Maroons, with the Newcastle superstar revealing earlier in the week that he's relishing the chance to link up with livewire fullback Reece Walsh in attack.

Wayne Bennett and Kalyn Ponga in State of Origin.
Wayne Bennett and Kalyn Ponga. Image: Getty

The inclusion of Ponga offers the Maroons a distinct X-factor off the bench - something the Queenslanders were missing in Game 2 as they were blown away by the Blues in a 34-0 first half thumping. But Bennett says the Ponga selection does not come without significant risk. Bennett took one of the greatest Origin gambles of all time when he brought back Allan Langer from England to star in the Maroons' 2001 Game 3 victory that clinched the series.

"He is a wonderful player but he has had one game in about three months," Bennett said about Ponga. "They are talking about playing him in the middle That is high risk, but Origin is about risk. It could turn out to be a great move. It could turn out to hurt you."

Ponga played through the middle for the Maroons when he made his Origin debut off the bench in the 2018 series and was man of the match the last time he featured for Queensland in the 2022 series decider. The Maroons will hoping Ponga can help them bounce back from the Game 2 mauling at the hands of the Blues, who were accused of bullying Queensland at the MCG.

Maroons great Darren Lockyer says he's excited about what Ponga brings to the table but warned the Queensland forward pack will have to get on top for the likes of Ponga and Walsh to shine in attack. "We still have to lay the right platform for them to showcase their skills," Lockyer said. "As we saw in game two, if you don't have any momentum in the middle of the field, you can look pretty average.

"Their real focus is for the forwards to try and win that battle, so the likes of Reece and KP can do their thing with time and space." The Maroons have been reluctant to go into too much detail about how Ponga will be used when he's injected off the bench, but Lockyer says Slater will have a number of plans up his sleeve, like he did when selecting Selwyn Cobbo as the Maroons utility in Game 1.

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"Billy had a plan for Cobbo if there were no injuries," Lockyer said. "He'll have a way of injecting KP into the game and he's not just going to sit on the bench as coverage for an outside back. There will be a way to get him into the game.

"You've only got to look back to when Cooper Cronk used to come at No.14 and Shaun Berrigan before that. You've got these ball-players who can go to an edge and create. You'll potentially have Reece on one side and KP on the other, which if you can build some fatigue, ruck speed and momentum, that becomes pretty dangerous."

Pictured left to right are QLD Maroons Origin stars Kalyn Ponga and Reece Walsh.
Kalyn Ponga and Reece Walsh are set to wreak havoc on NSW in the State of Origin decider after being named to play together with the Maroons for the first time. Pic: Getty

Perhaps the biggest thing in the Maroons' favour is the fact they're playing in front of a parochial home crowd at Suncorp Stadium - a venue that has proven a graveyard for NSW sides over the years. Only two Blues sides have won a decider in Queensland since the Origin series began in 1980, in a grim record that includes 10 losses and one draw.

"The greatest advantage Queensland has got is Suncorp," Bennett said. "The one thing you know is that the crowd will be behind that team. That makes such a difference. It is like playing with 14 guys on the field. The crowd gets engaged and it keeps the players highly motivated. It is fortunate that they get to come back and play that last game here and the stats tell you how dominant we have been in those deciders. The stats are made up of a number of years of performances and what they are saying is NSW haven't won many games when it mattered most."

with agencies