Ponga slips straight into Slater's No.1
Kalyn Ponga spent the week with Billy Slater then spent a night proving his Queensland No.1 jersey was in safe hands
The Newcastle fullback was brilliant for the Maroons in his run-on debut, throwing a superb long ball to set up the second of Dane Gagai's tries while covering his own tracks expertly in defence during an 18-14 State of Origin win.
The 21-year-old finished with two try assists, five tackle busts and a gain of 125m, revealing he had grown close to mentor Billy Slater in the week leading up to replacing him.
"It's hard to be comfortable in the Origin arena but I felt pretty good out there, especially in the second half," he said.
"First win in the maroon jersey; it was pretty awesome to be honest.
"But you can always be better, you've never played your best game."
Ponga wouldn't share the secrets passed on by Slater but admitted he had learnt plenty from the retired star after sharing a changeroom during his Origin farewell last year.
While Ponga was being lashed with praise there was plenty from within the Queensland camp to suggest room for improvement, with coach Kevin Walters describing the spine combination as "clunky" at times.
Captain Cherry-Evans agreed structural improvements were needed in Perth when the teams next meet on June 23.
But he said Ponga's impact on the contest had been wide-ranging.
"He gets a lot of credit and lot of media attention, I don't want to put any more on him," the captain said.
"But the demeanour he has in the side and respect he's already gained through his leadership qualities, talking to the group, demanding certain things from the side.
"It's all there for him; I can't wait to be along for the ride for Kalyn Ponga."
Asked of his fledging combination with the Melbourne playmaker, Ponga insists he's happy to watch Munster run, noting that "it worked" in Brisbane on Wednesday.
But he and his coach both know that situation can only sharpen with more time together on the park.
"First time they've played together ... for what they came up with, was very exciting," Walters said.
"We'll find out in Perth (what they're capable of) won't we."
© AAP 2019