Why Ponga lost Maroons bench battle with Milford
QUEENSLAND coach Kevin Walters says he decided to throw Anthony Milford the Maroons bench utility spot over Kalyn Ponga simply because of the 20-year-old gun's limited preparation time.
Walters confirmed on Tuesday Michael Morgan will be moved into the fullback role to cover for Billy Slater's injury, and Milford will be brought into the team on the bench.
Milford and Ponga were flown to Melbourne on Monday after Slater's withdrawal was confirmed.
There was plenty of excitement around the possibility of a Ponga debut at the MCG on Wednesday night, understandably given his form for Newcastle this year.
But Walters said it wouldn't have been fair to ask the kid to play just four days after turning out for the Knights.
"Kalyn played on Saturday night and I think that's putting a lot of pressure on him to play at this level with limited preparation," Walters said.
It means Walters will once again rely on Brisbane five-eighth Milford, who he has worked closely with at club level and called on for Origin I last year.
It was Walters and his old Broncos teammate Alfie Langer who helped Milford and Ben Hunt guide Brisbane to an NRL grand final three years ago.
He said the Broncos pivot has the ability to break an Origin game open once he's injected off the bench.
"He's a great little player, Milf, and I've got a lot of faith in his ability," Walters said.
"He can do some things on a footy field that not many players can do, and at this level I think that is very important.
"Depending on the situation of the game and what the scoreline is will depend on how we bring Anthony into the game."
Walters confirmed Milford would be given a licence to run the ball.
"Our whole philosophy around Milf is to give him the ball and let him run," Walters said.
"That's his go-to play and when he gets on the field that's what we want him doing, challenging the middle of the field."
As for Ponga, he may yet get his chance to play if Dane Gagai fails to recover from a compound dislocation of his finger.
Gagai suffered the injury at training on Tuesday but will be given every opportunity on game day to prove he can play.
If not, Ponga will come onto the right wing.
Walters expects Ponga to play some role in the series regardless.
"We all know Kalyn is going to be playing Origin at some stage, it might be in this series in game two, but for the moment we want to do the right thing by Kalyn and give him the right amount of preparation that's required," he said.
"I felt if we played him on Wednesday night straight into that fullback role, it would have been unfair on him with his preparation."
Walters also denied suggestions Darius Boyd had been overlooked for the replacement fullback role because he had opted to go on holiday instead of enter Maroons camp.
Walters said Boyd was overlooked because of his form for Brisbane, stating they had agreed the veteran fullback wasn't in good enough form to warrant an Origin jersey.