Could Ponga be the new Lockyer?
FORMER Bronco Kalyn Ponga has been hailed the new Darren Lockyer, with the Newcastle fullback sensation rated Queensland's next State of Origin superstar.
In a gut-wrenching sight for Broncos coach Wayne Bennett, the classy Ponga produced a masterclass on Saturday night, tormenting the Brisbane club with whom he held a scholarship as a 15-year-old.
The Knights were heavily criticised last year for signing Ponga, then just 19, to a mega five-year deal worth an estimated $3 million.
But their investment is paying dividends, with Bennett lauding Ponga as "special", while Knights colleague, NSW Origin halfback Mitchell Pearce, declaring he has never seen a better young NRL talent.
Two decades ago, Bennett blooded Lockyer, who made a sizzling entry to first grade as an 18-year-old fullback before developing into a Test and Origin star as one of the code's greatest five-eighths.
Now good judges believe Ponga is walking a similar path to stardom, with Broncos front-row legend Shane Webcke seeing parallels between the Knights whiz-kid and his former teammate Lockyer.
"I remember Darren Lockyer, as a teenager, had time and Kalyn is just like that," Webcke said.
"Ponga has a real composure about him and he just seems to be able to read a game so well for a young guy.
"All the great players have time. Guys like Lockyer, 'Alfie' (Broncos halfback legend Allan Langer) and 'Kevvie' (Maroons icon Kevin Walters) all had that trait, it's a real art form.
"The other thing that impresses me is Ponga's ability off the ball. He is constantly talking about where players need to be and he has a knack of being in the right place at the time.
"The one thing Queensland has done well is transition players at the right time.
"I don't expect Ponga to pitchforked into Origin so quickly, but he is a special talent ... it's great that Kalyn is eligible for Queensland."
Bennett would be kicking himself for Brisbane losing Ponga.
He was in the club's system as a 13-year-old before the Cowboys sneaked under the Broncos' guard him to poach him, ironically while Bennett was coaching at the Knights.
In just his 14th NRL game, the 20-year-old Ponga toyed with the Broncos, setting up a try, running for 176 metres and defending courageously in an incredibly mature all-round performance.
"He was very good," Bennett said. "He is a special player."
Eligible for both New Zealand and Queensland, Ponga was selected in the Maroons' Emerging Origin squad in January and Pearce believes he will eventually torment the Blues.
"When he goes in there (Origin), there will be more heartache for NSW as well," Pearce said.
"He is as good a young player as you will ever see. It's a big wrap but I don't think anyone would disagree.
"He is humble and listens and works hard. We talk about the pretty stuff but the best thing I like is the effort he makes in defence.
"I haven't see too many players play that tough at fullback."