Slater passes Maroons baton to Ponga
Queensland Maroons players Kalyn Ponga (left) and Billy Slater are seen during training on the Gold Coast, Thursday, June 21, 2018. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)
Billy Slater will trudge off into State of Origin retirement knowing his beloved Queensland No.1 jersey is in safe hands when he passes the baton to heir apparent Kalyn Ponga.
Slater admits he was lost for words as he marvelled at the Newcastle phenom's blistering performance during his Maroons debut in Sunday's 18-14 loss to NSW at ANZ Stadium.
While the Maroons suffered just their second series loss in 14 years, the emergence of Ponga has left everyone assured Queensland's future remains bright.
With Slater returning from a hamstring injury, the young fullback was picked on the bench and asked to perform as a roving utility.
It is universally accepted he will inherit the custodian's role next year and he gave the world a taste of his potential after coming on midway through the first half.
Even defending in the front line - something the Knights fullback has rarely done during his NRL career - he rarely missed a beat.
Standing on Queensland's left edge, he made 26 tackles. By comparison, he has made just 81 tackles during his 24 NRL appearances.
He also created constant headaches for the Blues defence and in the second half looked to be sailing to the tryline for the match-winner but was cut down by James Tedesco.
"Brilliant. I'm lost for words commenting on (Ponga's) performance tonight," Slater told AAP
"He got thrown into a foreign position in the middle of the field and his defence was as good as anyone's.
"He just wanted to get involved. He got the footy, he ran the footy.
"He just has a great attitude to go along with his talent. He's got a big future. We all know that don't we. That was certainly reassured tonight."
Slater will draw a curtain on his 15-year Origin career after next month's dead rubber at Suncorp Stadium.
Asked about his desire to go out an Origin winner, the 35-year-old said there was no room for sentimentality.
"I've never been one for it to be about me," Slater said.
"The possibility of going up there and getting reward for the effort we've put in this year is more of a driving factor rather than doing it for me."
© AAP 2018