Pearce: Maroons pain won’t stop Ponga
As wake-up calls go, it's a big one. But Mitchell Pearce reckons Kalyn Ponga has the character to learn what he needs from Queensland's State of Origin mauling and move on.
No stranger to ugly Origin fallout, Pearce insists 21-year-old Ponga won't be affected mentally by a Perth thumping that has also seen the Queensland No. 1 outed for struggling to make an impact.
Asked what advice he would give the Newcastle young gun this week, Knights captain Pearce laughed: "I'd probably just say 'welcome to footy'.
"So far in Kalyn's career, everything has really gone to plan - it's been bang, bang, bang.
"But getting kicked up the backside like that, especially on a big stage, it can bring you back to earth a bit.
"So it'll be a good learning experience for him.
"But I also think he will brush it off quickly."
Better, Pearce insists last Sunday night's thumping could actually work in favour of Newcastle when they play Brisbane at home this Saturday night.
"Because you don't want to poke the bear," the halfback said, grinning. "You do that and he comes back twice as hard."
Apart from struggling to make inroads against NSW, running for just 62m, Ponga was also targeted in defence - with Blues centre Tom Trbojevic leaping over him for the game's opening try, following a targeted bomb by No. 6 James Maloney.
"But I still thought Kalyn was Queensland's most dangerous player," Pearce continued. "And I can't remember him doing anything major wrong.
"So if I were Kalyn, I wouldn't be kicking myself too hard.
"His side didn't have much momentum. And even a guy with his footwork, if he isn't playing on the front foot he can't do much.
"So while I might be disappointed with the loss if I were Kalyn, I wouldn't be disappointed with the way I played."
Pearce added that Ponga also suffered behind a Maroons pack that was completely out-muscled.
"Queensland's forward weren't on the front foot," he said. "And that just shows how halves often only play well when your forwards are playing well.
"Here at Newcastle, I've been playing well off the back of our forward pack. I know they don't get many raps - and I'm sure they'd like more from the media - but as a half you value them because if they're doing their job, we all look like superstars."
Given NSW halfback Nathan Cleary is expected to miss the ANZ Stadium decider with injury, Pearce suddenly looms as a potential replacement in the Blues halves alongside Maloney.
However, the halfback who currently sits atop the Dally M leaderboard said his only real concern was getting Newcastle a win following a tough loss against Melbourne last start.
Pearce also revealed the Knights, who sit fifth on the NRL ladder, were now starting to gel after "playing within themselves" at the start of the year.