The Lockyer qualities Ponga has in abundance

When Kalyn Ponga seamlessly chimed into the Queensland backline to set up two tries in State of Origin Game I with superb passes, it was easy to imagine Darren Lockyer doing exactly the same thing throughout his stellar career.

Ponga, like Lockyer, glides across the turf. Like Lockyer, he unveils plays that require great skill and composure in pressure cooker moments.

There is no arena where a player’s mindset and skill set is examined more rigorously than Origin football, particularly when your side is trailing 8-0 in the second half and in need of a couple of magic moments.

It was a case of cometh the hour, cometh the man for Ponga at Suncorp Stadium.

Kalyn Ponga in action at Suncorp Stadium. Photo: NRL Images
Kalyn Ponga in action at Suncorp Stadium. Photo: NRL Images

In the 52nd minute he wrapped around Felise Kaufusi to throw a perfect right to left face ball to cut-out Michael Morgan and hit winger Corey Oates in the bread basket.

Ponga then iced the cake for the Maroons in the 67th minute when, this time on the right side, he cut out Matt Gillett and Will Chambers with another sublime inch-perfect ball for Dane Gagai to score.

The similarities with Lockyer’s mode of operation are clear. The Maroons needed something special to get back into the game and be the first try scorer after half-time. Ponga delivered, as Lockyer did on so many occasions for Brisbane, Queensland and Australia.

That Ponga did it again 15 minutes later was no surprise.

The skill required to throw those two passes cannot be underestimated. That is what Lockyer did so well and so often. While moving at great speed, he would throw inch-perfect balls to his support players.

Darren Lockyer in action for Queensland. Photo: NRL Images
Darren Lockyer in action for Queensland. Photo: NRL Images

It is that capacity to stand up when the game is on the line, and in the biggest games, that Lockyer made his trademark.

The 2006 NRL grand final springs to mind when, at pace, he delivered a marvellous inside ball to put Justin Hodges over and give Brisbane Broncos the lead against Melbourne Storm midway through the first half.

Lockyer had done exactly the same thing six years earlier when he got on the outside of the Sydney Roosters defence in the 2000 grand final and turned a delightful ball inside for Lote Tuqiri to score the opening try of the decider.

No one will forget Lockyer swooping on a loose Brett Hodgson pass in the Origin decider in 2006 in Melbourne, with minutes remaining, to score under the sticks and start the Maroons dynasty.

Like Lockyer in his pomp, Ponga made it all look easy in his first Origin game as a starting player.

The wingers that scored as a result of Ponga’s passes did so with centimetres to spare in the corner. That just magnifies the class of the Newcastle Knights star’s delivery. There was no margin for error. His timing and service was impeccable.

Queensland Maroons star Kalyn Ponga. Photo: NRL Images
Queensland Maroons star Kalyn Ponga. Photo: NRL Images

The other Lockyer-like qualities that comes to the fore each time Ponga plays are his cool head and his toughness.

In the early exchanges of Origin I, he was given an almighty wallop or two by the Blues defenders, but it didn’t rattle him.

An often underestimated quality of Lockyer’s was his steel and resoluteness when smashed by opponents. While slight of build, he would get back up and carry on regardless.

Ponga did exactly that against the Blues. While he did not have the space to make some of his trademark runs, he did not panic or seek the miracle play. He bided his time, stayed involved and waited for the right moments to inject himself and make a difference, as Lockyer always did.

Ponga's 154 metres from 23 runs reflects his desire to always be involved. The two try assists reflect his match-winning ways. They are priceless qualities.

At just 21 years of age you get the sense that Origin footy just washes over Ponga. He isn’t daunted or fazed by the arena in any way. He is also not content with what he has achieved.

That was evident when Ponga was asked in the Queensland dressing sheds whether he and the Maroons had another gear to go to in Perth on June 23.

"I can obviously be a lot better and I’ll work on that," Ponga said.

"You can always be better. You have never played your best game. There is always an opportunity to play your best game and as a spine, as a team and as a unit we’ve got to do that."

That humility and desire to improve was also a Lockyer trait.

The great thing from a Maroons perspective is that Ponga is just starting his career. If it can rival Lockyer’s in any way, shape or form then Queensland will have many golden moments ahead in Origin football.