Still shaking his head over Kalyn Ponga’s stunning Queensland debut, ex-captain Trevor Gillmeister is convinced the young gun can take the next step and start for the Maroons in 2019.
Gillmeister admitted he was floored by how easily Ponga handled his maiden State of Origin game when he came off the bench in game two last year.
“Playing Origin is daunting. It’s nerve wracking,” said Gillmeister, who was Maroons assistant last year.
“When you normally talk to blokes before they debut they say ‘what’s it like?’ and I say ‘you know when you do pre-season, it is 10 times harder than that’.
“A lot of them come off and say ‘yeah, you were right’ but Kalyn was cool as a cucumber and he said ‘that was great fun’.
“I thought ‘holy hell’, I’ve never heard anyone say that so he’s a pretty cool customer.”
Gillmeister said he was now convinced 20-year-old Ponga could either start in the Maroons halves or at fullback this year.
Ponga has made the switch from fullback to five-eighth for NRL club Newcastle this year, impressing in the Knights’ trial loss to St George Illawarra last week.
Asked if Ponga could handle starting for Queensland, Gillmeister said: “Ask him and he will tell you – he is not lacking in confidence, he will be fine.
“He is a fair lump of a young fella and watching the (trial) highlights the other night it looks like he has filled out as well.
“He is big enough (to start for Queensland). He is an exciting talent.”
Gillmeister said captain Greg Inglis was another contender for fullback with Billy Slater now retired and admitted Melbourne’s Cameron Munster would be hard to ignore as Maroons pivot.
But Gillmeister believed Ponga would ensure a welcome headache for selectors.
“Kalyn is a super talent and needs to be in the 17 somewhere. The easiest thing to do is put him on the bench because he can cover so many positions,” he said.
“Cameron Munster has got to get his hands on the footy and has to be in the halves but I am not a selector.
“With Kalyn he is obviously learning the six position and I think from Queensland’s perspective the more different positions he can play the better for the team, obviously fullback and in the halves.
“But it’s a good headache to have for the selectors.”