KALYN Ponga is set to play his first State of Origin game in more than two years after a sensational return from injury in Newcastle's 38-0 demolition of North Queensland at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday.
After six games on the sidelines nursing a groin problem, Ponga scored two tries, produced two try assists and made a game-high 212 attacking metres in a performance that ensured Queensland selectors wasted no time in naming him in their squad for Origin III on Wednesday week.
He is joined by Newcastle teammate Kurt Mann, who is a standby player for the Maroons in jersey No.19.
Newcastle prop Daniel Saifiti has been ruled out of the NSW team with a rib injury he sustained in Saturday's big win against the Cowboys.
Knights coach Adam O'Brien said Ponga's presence provided his teammates with a "massive" boost and predicted he would have similar influence on the Maroons, who are facing an embarrassing clean sweep after being thrashed 50-6 and 26-0 in the first two games of the series.
"I think everybody is more confident when you've got him out there with you, and I'd imagine he's going to be a huge asset for Queensland," O'Brien said.
Ponga debuted for the Maroons as a 20-year-old in 2018 but has played in only two Origin games since.
He was chosen but then ruled of this year's series opener and admitted it had been "tough to watch" the first two games.
"NSW have wrapped it up, but for Queensland it's about not letting them have too much of a party," he said.
"I want to obviously go there and put my best foot forward if I get picked, and just do the state and the jersey proud."
The series finale is expected to be played in Newcastle because of Sydney's coronavirus restrictions.
"I reckon Newcastle will love it," Ponga said. "It'd be awesome if it was here. Hopefully, it's here."
Queensland team for Game III: Kalyn Ponga, Valentine Holmes, Dane Gagai, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Xavier Coates, Cameron Munster, Daly Cherry-Evans, Christian Welch, Ben Hunt, Josh Papalii, Kurt Capewell, Felise Kaufusi, Jai Arrow, AJ Brimson. Bench: Tino Fa'asuamaleaui, Moeaki Fotuaika, David Fifita, Frank Molo (18th man). Extended squad members: Kurt Mann, Thomas Flegler.
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