Walters: Maroons jumper will keep Ponga in NRL
Queensland coach Kevin Walters is adamant superstar Kalyn Ponga won't be tempted to defect to rugby union, with his beloved Maroons jumper to keep him in the game well into the future.
Breaking his silence on Ponga's future in the code, Walters fired a cross-code shot by declaring the famous Maroons jumper will stave off poaching threats from Australia and New Zealand rugby.
Ponga was on Tuesday tight-lipped about speculation he could quit the NRL to play for the Wallabies or All Blacks, although he confirmed he received contact from Australia coach Michael Cheika "ages ago".
While the 21-year-old is contracted to Newcastle until the end of 2021, the Knights would not force Ponga to stay in the NRL if his heart was set on the rugby code he played as a 15-year-old in Brisbane.
Walters, however, is adamant the challenge of State of Origin will be the ultimate antidote to any big-money offers from Rugby Australia and New Zealand Super Rugby franchises.
"Kalyn will not leave rugby league," Walters said on Tuesday night.
"He's a Queenslander through and through and he loves this Origin jumper.
"This Maroon jumper will keep Kalyn in the game."
Australian rugby has previously poached a slew of Queensland Origin stars including Wendell Sailor, Mat Rogers, Lote Tuqiri, Israel Folau, Karmichael Hunt and Will Chambers.
But Chambers eventually returned to rugby league to chase his dream with the Maroons, evidence for Walters that the quality of State of Origin will test Ponga's athletic ability like no other sport.
"Origin is the pinnacle of our sport," Walters said.
"I know other sports have attractions and other nations are getting better in rugby, but the best athletes want to play State of Origin.
"There is nothing like it as a contest in world sport.
"The challenge it presents to Kalyn will keep him in the game.
"Rugby league is pumping through his veins. He is the future of our game and Kalyn is going on a special pathway in rugby league.
"I'm sure he has plenty of years left in him in rugby league, both in the NRL and for State of Origin and Australia.
"He will be a Queenslander for many years to come."
Asked about Cheika's approach last year, Ponga said: "That was ages ago. I don't want to touch on that (rugby). I am here to focus on Queensland and the week that is ahead and the game that is ahead."
During his four-year tenure at the Cowboys, Ponga watched Thurston from close range and his observations of the Maroons champion suggest he is committed to the NRL.
"I'd love to be 'JT', that would be cool," he said.
"JT is one of those blokes who doesn't know what he is going to do, he just does it. Learning from him, I was just watching what he was doing rather than him telling me.
"He is just a freak and does things off the cuff.
"I would love to be half the player that he was."