HE was content to sit out last season's State of Origin series, but Knights skipper Kalyn Ponga admits he was disappointed not to make his Test debut for the Kangaroos in the recent Pacific Championships.
Struggling for form and confidence after a spate of concussions, Ponga was overlooked by Queensland coach Billy Slater for Origin I and subsequently ruled himself out of the remaining two games to focus on his performances for Newcastle.
That decision paid dividends with a spectacular second half of the season that inspired Newcastle to 10 wins in a row, culminating in Ponga becoming the first Knights player to win the Dally M gold medal since Danny Buderus in 2004.
He was a surprise omission when Australian coach Mal Meninga named his squad for Tests against New Zealand and Samoa, and that setback should provide him with extra motivation during the long, hard pre-season ahead.
"Yeah, I was [disappointed], to be honest," Ponga said. "Obviously playing at the highest level was a goal of mine, and it always will be.
"But in saying that, no bad blood. I wasn't disappointed at Mal, I was just disappointed that I didn't make it.
"That team is elite and it's going to be hard to make. Hopefully one day I can get there ... I'll work hard and try and get there next time."
Ponga sounded a warning to Reece Walsh, who was outstanding as Queensland's fullback last year, that he was coming after the jersey he has worn previously in seven Origins.
"I want to play in that arena, for sure," Ponga said.
"You've got to work hard to earn that jersey.
"It's not given. He [Walsh] definitely earned that jersey this year and played pretty well in it, as well.
"I'm not really worried. I don't go into the season thinking about that. Obviously I want to play well at clubland and hopefully that takes care of it."