It’s shaping as State of Origin test take two for Queensland prospect Kalyn Ponga this weekend.
Fresh from Saturday night’s direct showdown with NSW fullback James Tedesco, the in-form Knights custodian is set to go head-to-head with retiring Maroons No.1 Billy Slater when Newcastle host Melbourne at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The potential clash between 20-year-old Ponga and returning Storm star Slater, who missed last week’s Origin opener with a hamstring injury, means all Queensland eyes will be on the Hunter venue ahead of the series-defining second game in Sydney on Sunday, June 24.
Slater is no guarentee to play the round-15 NRL fixture with Storm coach Craig Bellamy saying "you'd like to think he'll be playing next week but we're not going to take any chances”, after Melbourne beat Brisbane 32-16 without him on Sunday night.
If he does take the field in Newcastle, the upcoming 80 minutes will more than likely double as Slater’s fitness test for Origin II and provide a face off with touted Queensland heir-apparent Ponga.
If he doesn’t take the field in Newcastle, and with the Maroons already down 1-0, Slater would be racing the clock to be 100 per cent healthy and replacement option Ponga gets presented with a final makeshift trial to impress Queensland coach Kevin Walters.
Cowboys “Mr Fix-It” Michael Morgan filled the void at fullback in the Maroons’ 22-12 loss to the Blues at the MCG on Wednesday night, with the Broncos’ Anthony Mildford used as a utility off the bench.
Ponga was called into the Queensland squad late as cover and narrowly missed making his Origin debut with Walters saying: "I think it would be putting a lot of pressure on him [Ponga] at this level to play with a limited preparation”.
Since then, and following another stand out display for the Knights on the weekend, calls have continued to pick Dally M contender Ponga.
Maroons legend Wally Lewis was among those backing Ponga’s inclusion somewhere in the 17 for Origin II while the tone of fellow former Queensland captain Darren Lockyer was much more reserved.
Slater, who turns 35 on June 18, announced his end-of-year retirement from representative rugby league last month.
Tedesco backed up from his man-of-the-match performance for the Blues in Origin I to help the Roosters narrowly overcome Newcastle 18-16.
Both state squads are expected to be named on Sunday night or Monday.
READ MORE:Ponga v Tedesco – who’s the No.1 gun?