NRL superstar-in-waiting Kalyn Ponga will be ready to go if he’s handed his debut this season, according to his North Queensland teammate John Asiata.
But despite a scintillating pre-season for the Cowboys, it looks like Johnathan Thurston’s teenage understudy is going to have to be patient for the time being.
“I think his age comes into factor there. At the moment, he’s too young,” said North Queensland assistant David Furner.
The Cowboys are taking a cautious approach but the temptation to throw the freakishly-talented Ponga into the mix at some point this year seems to be growing by the day.
Ponga, who turns 18 in March, was compared with a young Karmichael Hunt when he first signed for the Cowboys two years ago, having turned down approaches from the Brisbane Lions, Brisbane Broncos, Sydney Roosters, Melbourne Storm, Queensland Reds and even a shot at a career as a professional golfer.
Ponga made his Holden Cup debut last year and has continued his progress over the summer, looking anything but out of place in opposed training drills against premiership-winning teammates.
“Kalyn Ponga’s one outstanding kid,” Asiata said on Thursday.
“He’s a superstar for the club.
“He’s trained really hard … but he’s got to earn a spot to be able to play in the NRL.
“The way he’s going, that’s the way he’s heading to.
“If the time comes for him to take the field, he’ll be ready.”
Ponga already finds himself at the centre of a representative tug-of-war between Australia, where he was born and played must of his rugby league, and New Zealand, where he grew up, while both the Kiwis and the Maroons have selected them in their under-20s squads.
He is reportedly torn between both, and considering stepping away from all rep football until he figures out who he wants to play for.
An NRL debut during the State of Origin period or towards the back end of the season remains a possibility, but the Cowboys are intent on handling Ponga with kid gloves.
“It’s been a good pre-season for KP,” Furner said.
“He’s caused our team a lot of trouble, too. He’s got such good footwork and a lot of speed.
“Not only is he enjoying the training, he’s enjoying contesting against Johnno, Kane Linnett and Michael Morgan. He’s competing against our best.”