North Queensland sensation Kalyn Ponga has made an irrepressible case for NRL selection in round one after scoring a hat-trick in a reserve grade trial on Friday night.
Ponga is certain to come into calculations for the Cowboys’ season-opener against Canberra after Antonio Winterstein came off early in his team’s NRL trial win over the Wests Tigers.
Cowboys coach Paul Green played down the seriousness of Winterstein’s injury before shying away from Ponga’s prospects of a first-grade call-up.
“It’s an ankle thing. It doesn’t seem to be too bad but we’ll get it checked out tonight. Don’t want to take any unnecessary risks,” Green said of Winterstein.
“See what the scans say but at this stage, it doesn’t look too bad.”
Ponga took the NRL by storm when he deputised for an injured Winterstein during last year’s finals series, before signing a lucrative deal to join the Newcastle Knights in 2018.
Pressed on whether the 18-year-old would again be in line to replace Winterstein on the left edge, Green said: “I don’t know – that’s two weeks away.”
The premiership-winning coach was disappointed in his team’s performance in Campbelltown, where they needed a last-ditch try to steal a scratchy victory despite being at full-strength.
The Cowboys were outplayed for most of the match before Kane Linnett scored with five minutes left, allowing skipper Johnathan Thurston to win it with a sideline conversion.
“It’s always good to win, don’t get me wrong. It gives you a bit of confidence when you win, but there’s probably a couple of areas we’ve got a bit of work to do,” he said.
“Probably not as happy as I would’ve liked to have been. There were some pleasing things to take out of the game, a couple of things we wanted to try and get out of it.
“But we were a bit off on some of our basic stuff too.”
Scott Bolton all but secured the previously vacant front-row spot alongside co-captain Matt Scott with a typically industrious effort, but Green was less than impressed with his bench.
“Our young guys, they had a couple of errors around them tonight, so they’d all be disappointed in their game. But their effort was good.”
The Cowboys open their season against the Raiders in Townsville on March 4.