It’s the scenario many New South Wales fans have been dreading for some time. Right when the extended era of Queensland dominance looks set to peter out and lose the ultimate battle to father time, a new generation of exciting rookies look set to keep the trend going for a while yet.
With Jonathan Thurston in the rear-view mirror at State of Origin level and legends like Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Greg Inglis and Billy Slater all a year older and slower, a new-look Blues led by Brad Fittler would have viewed the 2018 series as the chance to plant a stake in the ground.
While the Blues may still yet triumph in the Origin arena, the likes of Kalyn Ponga stand as the latest generation of Queensland stars set to build on more than a decade of dominance and success at State of Origin level.
Queensland bounced back from a 28-4 humiliation in the first game of the 2017 series on home soil at Suncorp Stadium to register yet another series win courtesy of an 18-16 win at ANZ Stadium and a 22-6 win in the third and final game of the series at the old Lang Park.
Maroon coloured dynasty
Queensland has now won the last three series in a row. Coupled with the fact they’ve triumphed in 11 of the last 12 series and the sheer dominance of the Maroon dynasty since they first ended a three-straight Blues run in 2006.
Queensland’s ‘generation next’ includes Ponga, a roaring success since his move to the Newcastle Knights this season as well as Ash Taylor, Jai Arrow, Felise Kaufusi and Brenko Lee amongst others.
The QRL’s ‘Emerging Origin Program’ has been running since 2001 when it was established by Wayne Bennett and provides an idea on players who are progressing on the path toward representing the Maroons at the top level, State of Origin.
With such strong and developed pathways in place, stars like Ponga could continue to haunt the Blues long after the likes of Smith, Cronk and Slater have walked away from the game and with calls for Ponga’s inclusion as early as the upcoming 2018 series, there’s every expectation that Queensland coach Kevin Walters could hand the rookie sensation his debut cap come game one.
Good enough, old enough
Current Queensland skipper Cameron Smith was supportive of the idea when asked post-game on Friday night after Melbourne’s resounding win over the Knights.
“If you’re the best person for the job, it doesn’t matter how old you are or how much experience you’ve got.
“If you’re playing well enough and you’re the best person for that position in a team, throw him in there,” Smith added.
Ponga’s inclusion into the Queensland side would likely not be in his preferred position of fullback, however, with long-time custodian Billy Slater still in good form and an automatic selection at the back.
With that in mind, Ponga could be an option on the wing or, more likely, a utility option from the bench. If Ponga was selected as an x-factor type option from the bench, he could prove an absolute nightmare around the middle of the ruck for a tired New South Wales forward pack.
Will Kalyn Ponga play State of Origin for the Queensland Maroons in 2018? Let us know in the comments and poll below.