Kalyn Ponga has been tipped for a Maroons guernsey.
Kalyn Ponga has been tipped for a Maroons guernsey. JULIAN SMITH

‘Mango’ backs Ponga to initiate bench warfare

FORMER Maroons bench weapon Matt Bowen believes Kalyn Ponga could form a lethal double fullback assault with Billy Slater as calls grow for the Knights whiz kid to be picked.

Ponga has long been hyped as a future superstar and his reputation has only been enhanced after leaving the Cowboys for Newcastle in search of more first grade time this season.

The 20-year-old has relished the extra responsibility at the rebuilding Knights, and has taken ownership of running the team after Mitchell Pearce was ruled out with a pectoral injury.

Cowboys legend Bowen played eight of his ten Origin games off the bench, where he was given a license to roam and target tiring Blue forwards with his speed and footwork.

North Queensland five-eighth Michael Morgan is the hot favourite to claim the utility bench role for Origin I in Melbourne on June 6.

But Bowen said Ponga could provide some x-factor with star playmakers Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith all retired from representative football.

"I think it would be a good role for them if they do go that way. I reckon he could give them that spark," Bowen said.

"I defended on the wing and in attack I just popped up wherever, I ran in a fullback role and got into dummy half.

"Locky (Darren Lockyer) and I would play as two fullbacks, one on either side, and if they do the same it would put them in two minds.

"I thought he (Ponga) might take time to adjust to playing a fill-in role up here to taking on a playmaking role down there.

"But he's been doing a lot of different things down there, including some kicking, and has taken on the role really well."

Thurston was shattered when Ponga opted to leave the Cowboys and accept the Knights' big money deal.

Ponga has conquered every challenge thrown at him thus far and Thurston believes Origin would be no different.

"Origin can make or break you and I've seen Kalyn so some things that no one else can do at training," Thurston said.

"He's going extremely well at the Knights and it's an option for Kevvie (Walters, Maroons coach).

"(Throw him on) ten minutes before halftime, straight after halftime, they used to do it with Matty Bowen.

"I think his first NRL game was a semi final against the Broncos and he handled that extremely well.

"If that's the way Kevvie decides to go, I have full faith in him."