ponga and watson
Connor Watson (r) can't help but feel happy for ex-teammate Kalyn Ponga (l) on his Origin selection. Image by Darren England/AAP PHOTOS
  • rugby league

Old housemate on high alert for rejuvenated Ponga

Scott Bailey July 9, 2024

Connor Watson could be the only man in NSW happy to see Kalyn Ponga back in the State of Origin fold.

Not so much because he is looking forward to going up against him in next Wednesday’s State of Origin decider, but simply because he knows as well as anyone what the Queensland superstar has been through.

“We’ve both been on these different journeys, but similar in ways,” Watson said on Tuesday.

“When I heard the news and we both said ‘how cool it is we will come up against each other in this really important game’. 

“To go back a couple of years, you would never think that would happen.”

Former housemates and still close friends from their time together at Newcastle, neither Watson nor Ponga were anywhere near Origin football at the start of last year.

While Sydney Roosters star Watson was weighing up whether he would ever return to rugby league from a torn patella tendon, Ponga was also having retirement thoughts due to repeated concussions.

Ponga ended up returning last season to win the Dally M Medal, while Watson had to endure a 558-day wait to make it back on an NRL field earlier this year.

That is why when the dangerous Ponga was named to come off Queensland’s bench for next week’s decider after overcoming a foot injury, Watson could only see the positive side for his former teammate.

“I haven’t really thought of it like (he is going to be hard to stop), I’m just stoked for him,” Watson said. 

“I know how hard he has worked and almost having to give it away last year with the head knocks. And this lisfranc (injury to Ponga’s foot). 

“He has shown a lot of resilience, and when he has played football for Newcastle he has always been such a good player.” 

Watson knows how dangerous Ponga can be as a bench utility for the Maroons in the Suncorp Stadium decider, as he prepares for a similar role to come on in the middle for NSW against tired defenders.

Ponga last came off the bench for Queensland on debut in Origin II of 2018, breaking the line and busting two tackles as he made an immediate impact.

“We saw it four or five years ago when he played and did such a great job coming through the middle,” Watson said. 

“Any of those smaller guys through the middle, you are always on high alert because of their great feet. 

“You end up in the washing machine, so when you see them coming through you’ve got to be on high alert. 

“When we see him with the ball in their hands we will definitely be locking in.”