Ponga welcomes Holmes' bid for Maroons job

Kalyn Ponga (L) is happy to be challenged by Valentine Holmes for the Queensland Origin No.1 jersey.
Kalyn Ponga (L) is happy to be challenged by Valentine Holmes for the Queensland Origin No.1 jersey.

Queensland fullback Kalyn Ponga has welcomed a challenge from North Queensland recruit Valentine Holmes for the Maroons' No.1 jersey in 2020.

Ponga took over the fullback position in the first two State of Origin games this year before he was ruled out of the deciding game of the series with a calf injury.

But before Ponga exploded on the representative scene, Valentine Holmes was considered the long-term replacement for champion Queensland fullback Billy Slater.

Returning with the Cowboys in 2020 from a sojourn with the NFL, Holmes will put pressure on the 21-year-old Knights' fullback to maintain his custodian role.

And Ponga welcomes it.

"I haven't really thought about that," Ponga said on Friday.

"I guess there's always competition, healthy competition. Whoever gets to play in that jersey is honoured and proud and will do their best for the jersey and for the state.

"If it's me or him or anyone else, I hope they do well.

"I'm sure he's loving it up there (in Townsville). That's home for him and his family so I'm sure he's enjoying it."

Ponga has the advantage of a pre-season at fullback under new coach Adam O'Brien, while Holmes will be readjusting his body to rugby league demands after a year of NFL training.

Meanwhile, the Knights are close to the bushfires burning all over the NSW mid-north coast and have been doing heavy conditioning outdoors in smoke.

Ponga denied the air quality was having an impact on training, instead insisting he was just happy to be with the group this pre-season.

"Last season, I was injured and I missed out on a bit; you feel a bit disconnected from the group. This season, I'm there and in amongst it all and I'm enjoying it," he said.

Australian Associated Press