CURIOUS locals kept a keen eye on Cowboys-contracted Kalyn Ponga as Metropolitan East clashed with Wide Bay yesterday at John Bickmore Oval, Mackay. Despite his team fighting until the very end, it was Wide Bay that came out on top, winning 24-16.
Originally playing for Capricornia; as well as South's League Club Mackay – the host venue for this year’s championships – the 16-year-old fullback has recently been awarded a scholarship at Anglican Church Grammar School in Brisbane. This scholarship puts him in the Met East side for the Queensland Secondary School Rugby League Championship, a strong side that made it into the top eight on Thursday after a tough game.
Showing exactly why he's been signed up by an NRL team at such a young age, the first four-pointer of Game 5 on Thursday was scored by Ponga after he received a swift offload a metre away from the try line and dived over to claim the points.
The rest of the game was challenging for Met East and some strong attack and clean breaks made by their opponents South Coast saw them go down 22-16. Despite this loss; their position in the competition last year still resulted in them maintaining their top eight spot.
Yesterday’s game was even more challenging, with the level of aggression and stamina evident from both sides from the beginning of the match. Despite Wide Bay's strong defence, Ponga was able to repeat Game 1's impressive play, scoring Met East's first four pointer of the game after making a break at the 30m line, outrunning his opponents and planting one beneath the goal posts. The rest of the game saw some impressive plays by Justin Fai, Kyle Coghill and Jayden Carroll, while on the Wide Bay side; Kyle Spry, Simon Fairbairn, Kadison Millard, Daniel Kirk and Hayden Herbert put the points on the scoreboard.
Ponga, who received the Man of the Match for his most recent game, has been playing rugby league for three years now, and was disappointed with the loss. However, he was aware of the improvements that needed to be made by his team.
“I think we need to calm down and be more patient with the ball. We should be grinding the set out,” Ponga said.
“In the end, I think we just got too eager to score a try.”
When asked about his contract with the North Queensland Cowboys, Ponga showed excitement at the thought of returning to the north and could see what a great opportunity it was for both himself and his family.
“It is a good opportunity. Coming back up north will mean my parents can be closer to family and my little sister can grow up there,” Ponga said.
“The dream was always to play NRL. I don't just want to play one game, I want to have a long career.”
Metropolitan East coach Grant Stephenson was similarly disappointed with the loss, but like Ponga, had an idea of where the team needed to shape up.
"I'm obviously disappointed, I think we are a top four side, but you can't put anything past Wide Bay's performance; they just kept coming at us and got to their kick and completed well,” Stephenson said.
“The next two days are all about how the boys are going to respond to a loss, knowing that they can't win a state carnival so it's up to them and how they respond.”
Stephenson made it clear he was not going to treat his boys any differently because of the loss, with the main objective for the remainder of the carnival to have some of his team chosen for the state side.
“(We have a) new goal; we have to get fifth now and try and get a few boys into the maroon jersey and see how we go from there," Stephenson said.
Day 2 Results can be viewed here: Results Day 2 QSSRL Under 18