Kalyn Ponga is set to play five-eighth for the Knights.
Kalyn Ponga is set to play five-eighth for the Knights.

Halves switch may hold back Ponga

Australia coach Mal Meninga concedes Kalyn Ponga's move from fullback to five-eighth with Newcastle next season "could have a negative impact" on the 20-year-old's representative career.

In a bold move that highlights a team-first mentality, Ponga has agreed to make the switch into the halves to partner Mitchell Pearce because it is the best fit for the Knights.

But Meninga fears the move could jeopardise Ponga's bid to replace Billy Slater in Queensland's No.1 jersey next year.

Most believe Ponga has the rails run to grab the fullback spot from Slater.

But Meninga said that if Ponga was not playing fullback at club level, it would be extremely difficult to make the switch in State of Origin. The scenario would give Valentine Holmes a huge ­advantage in the battle to fill the position.

"It is a big ask," Meninga said. "Fullback, as everyone knows now, it takes a while to get used to. There is the effort-on-­effort you need to do in attack and defence and the amount of talk you need to do.

"So, yeah, it could have a negative impact on his representative career at fullback."

There is also a red-hot field vying for starting spots in the Queensland halves.

Ponga will be up against Cameron Munster, Daly ­Cherry-Evans, Michael Morgan, Anthony Milford and ­potentially Ash Taylor.

Ben Hunt's representative career is most likely to be at dummy half after Meninga picked the St George Illawarra playmaker as his back-up hooker for recent Kangaroos Tests.

While no one questions Ponga's ability to have a huge influence at representative level in any position - after all, he played a blinder as a substitute in the forwards for Queensland this year - it would be a big ask to unseat Munster from five-eighth.

Kalyn Ponga is aiming for Billy Slater’s fullback role at the Maroons.
Kalyn Ponga is aiming for Billy Slater’s fullback role at the Maroons.

One thing that could work in Ponga's favour is talk that Munster wants to play at fullback for Melbourne Storm. If the Storm grant Munster his wish, that is more than likely where Queensland would pick him.

Ponga had an exceptional first year with the Knights and probably would have won the Dally M Medal had he not been injured late in the season.

So moving to five-eighth should be no problem at all.

It has been suggested a Ponga switch from fullback to five-eighth for Newcastle could mirror the success Brisbane had with Darren Lockyer.

But Lockyer was 26 when he made the move and it didn't come without some early pain.

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