NRL rising star denied NZ Maori berth
A SHATTERED Kalyn Ponga has revealed that a shoulder injury has cost him the chance to represent the New Zealand Maori this weekend.
Battling a shoulder complaint since the latter part of the season, the fullback has been advised by medical professionals to sit out the match.
The Mackay-raised Ponga was scheduled to face the NZ Residents in Auckland on Saturday but with pre-season training with his new club Newcastle starting in just a few weeks, he's made the tough call to withdraw.
"I was honoured to be picked for the side," Ponga told foxsports.com.au.
"It would have been an amazing opportunity to connect with my culture and give back but with my shoulder (how it is) and pre-season not far away, I wanted to focus on next year."
As the Knights' marquee signing, Ponga knows he needs a big pre-season as he starts the next chapter in his career.
Having signed a four-year deal with the red and blue, Ponga leaves North Queensland after nine top grade appearances over two seasons.
With 2018 set to be his first consistent season in the NRL, the 19-year-old has made his new club his priority.
It's a brave call the youngster has made and a blow for the Kiwis.
Last week, chairman of the NZ Maori Rugby League John Devonshire championed the addition of Ponga to their side.
The Maori side features plenty of talent, with St George Illawarra NYC gun Patrick Herbert and North Sydney battering ram Piki Rogers.
"Undoubtedly the spotlight will be on Kalyn Ponga," Devonshire said.
"We consider it an absolute pleasure to have this young Maori superstar wanting to be a part of our kaupapa, to enable him to connect to his taha Maori which he considers is a blessing for Andre, his dad, and their whanau."
Which country Ponga plans to pledge his allegiance to has been a hot topic inside rugby league circles. Eligible to play for both Australia and New Zealand, Ponga is yet to play senior representative football.
Even if Ponga had played for the Maori, it wouldn't have tied him to the Kiwis.
At the centre of a tug-of-war since bursting on the scene, Ponga decided to not play representative football last year after both the Junior Kiwis and Junior Kangaroos had planned on picking him.
It's understood Queensland are hopeful of Ponga making a call on his eligibility before their next Emerging Origin camp.