Ponga ice-cool in NRL debut: Cowboys coach

With just his second touch of the football, North Queensland teenager Kalyn Ponga announced himself as a future NRL force.

But Cowboys coach Paul Green claimed he knew much earlier that he had unearthed something very special indeed.

Ponga – just 18 – on Friday night became only the sixth player in 30 years to make his NRL debut in a final after being announced as a shock call-up for injured North Queensland winger Antonio Winterstein.

And not just any final.

The Cowboys lined up in a sudden death semi against Brisbane in the NRL grand final re-match at a sold-out 1300SMILES Stadium.

But Ponga did not show any nerves, launching a jinking run in the 16th minute that almost sparked a try with his second touch.

Green claimed the portents were encouraging from the outset that young gun Ponga would handle the occasion like an old pro.

“It was funny, I asked him if he had played wing before,” Green said.

“He said ‘yeah, yeah’.

“Then he said: ‘actually I have never played wing before’.

“But that is the reaction you want as a coach.

“If there was any hint of him being afraid of the opportunity it would have come out in his answer so that gave me confidence.”

In the end, Ponga amassed 174m, two tackle busts and a line break as the Cowboys kept their title defence on track with a 26-20 extra-time win.

It capped a rollercoaster week for the youngster.

He was among five Cowboys charged with two counts of wilful damage after allegedly being caught by police throwing eggs at passing cars in Townsville last week.

The teenager was also named as fullback in the NRL under-20s team of the year last week.

Ponga has already become embroiled in an eligibility tug of war between Queensland and New Zealand after being dubbed the “next Johnathan Thurston”.

A question mark emerged over his allegiances after he opted not to play in this year’s Junior Test in Parramatta after both the Junior Kangaroos and Junior Kiwis revealed they wanted to pick him.

He should remain in demand judging by his impressive NRL debut.

“He showed great composure for a young guy,” Green said.

“He wasn’t overawed at all, put himself into the game and played tough.

“I was pretty excited actually to give a young guy like Kalyn his opportunity in a game like that.

“He is very level headed, not cocky in any way.”

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