Kalyn Ponga will be a key player in State of Origin I. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)
Kalyn Ponga will be a key player in State of Origin I. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Lockyer wants Ponga to play it cool

FORMER Maroons skipper Darren Lockyer has urged Kalyn Ponga not to lose his cool, warning the Blues will attempt to frustrate the Maroons whiz-kid into error by heavily marking him in Origin I.

Lockyer believes Ponga can be the match-winner in the series opener but says Billy Slater's successor might have to wait until the dying minutes to break NSW's defensive line and spirit at Suncorp Stadium.

Such are Ponga's natural gifts, the new Queensland fullback is expected to tear NSW apart with his attacking zip, but Lockyer admits the 21-year-old will not get the offensive scope he enjoys at NRL level.

Lockyer was the master of patience and playing the long game.

The champion five-eighth famously saved Queensland in game one of the 2011 series, producing an inside ball for a flying Slater to score eight minutes from full-time and avert a NSW boilover as the Maroons edged home 16-12 at Suncorp.

Now, as Ponga prepares to launch a new era in his starting debut replacing Slater at fullback, Lockyer advised the Maroons young gun to keep a calm head.

"Kalyn will be heavily marked," said Lockyer, a veteran of 36 Origin games.

"With the form he has brought into the game, 'Freddy' (NSW coach Brad Fittler) will have done a lot of video on him.

Ponga will make his first Origin start. Picture by Adam Head.
Ponga will make his first Origin start. Picture by Adam Head.

"They will work hard on the kick chase and Freddy will instruct the Blues to keep turning up on Ponga.

"It's going to be a patience game for Kalyn.

"While the spaces open up at club level earlier in a game, he will have to wait for that moment longer in this arena.

"He has to have a patient mindset and keep doing his job. It may take a bit longer than what he is used to at club level for an opportunity to present itself."

Lockyer says the career of Steve Renouf, the lethal Brisbane centre ace who scored just two tries in 11 games for Queensland, is evidence of the defensive discipline in the Origin arena.

Ponga shapes as one of Queensland’s key men. Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images.
Ponga shapes as one of Queensland’s key men. Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images.

"Kalyn can't get frustrated that he might not get the space he's had in the last month," said Lockyer, now a Queensland selector.

"It's about holding your nerve.

"His chance to strike will come.

"I remember someone like Steve Renouf ... he never got the space for Queensland that he got at club level and it was hard for him to excel in Origin.

"You have to earn the right to excel at that level.

"Everyone loves watching Ponga play and Maroons fans will be thinking we can't wait for him to make his first break in the 15th minute, but everyone has to be realistic here.

Can Ponga take it to the next level. AAP Image/Dan Peled.
Can Ponga take it to the next level. AAP Image/Dan Peled.

"The chance for Kalyn might not present itself until the 70th minute."

Queensland coach Kevin Walters backed Ponga to hold his own against the man widely regarded as the NRL's No.1 player - NSW fullback James Tedesco.

"We know what Ponga can do in club land," he said.

"He's been in some great touch there, Kalyn has just got to be himself, I know he will bring that (tonight) with his attack and defence.

"Now he is in his favourite position back at fullback. Like every other Queenslander I am really excited to see what he does in Origin I."