Ponga lifts Maroons in Origin face-saver

It was missing for the first two games but Queensland finally found their State of Origin spark with fullback Kalyn Ponga.

Absent for the first two matches due to injury, the Newcastle superstar showed the Maroons just what they’d been missing with a leading hand in Wednesday’s 20-18 win over NSW on the Gold Coast.

Ponga led the Maroons with 182 running metres, recorded three tackle busts and one line break.

More importantly, he was at the heart of Queensland’s best attacking moments at CBUS Super Stadium.

A kick return early in the first half set the platform from which the Maroons would score their first try of the night through debutant Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow.

Ponga’s chiming into the line throughout added a question mark for the Blues’ defence they didn’t have to deal with in the first two games, and his confidence appeared to lift those around him as well.

Josh Papalii, in his 20th Origin, combined with Tino Fa’asuamaleaui to give some big shots in defence while Ben Hunt, starting for the first time in the 2021 series, scored two crucial second-half tries.

The second of those came after Ponga broke through the Blues’ line and sprinted 60 metres, Hunt stepping through a couple of plays later as NSW scrambled to get back.

The Maroons No.1 also came up big defensively, with a huge play to deny Tom Trbojevic in the game’s dying moments.

The Blues’ superstar appeared set to secure his state a series whitewash when he broke clear but Ponga – the last line of defence – did enough to force the ball from Trbojevic’s grasp as his Maroons’ teammates came back to hang on to their two-point lead.

It was too late to save the series but the Maroons will take confidence from Ponga’s inspiration heading into next year as they try to reclaim the Origin shield.