Phil Gould declares Billy Slater will walk before Origin III
NRL guru Phil Gould has sensationally predicted Billy Slater will give up his Queensland No. 1 jumper before the end of this year's State of Origin series.
Gould said the red-hot form of Newcastle rising star Kalyn Ponga will make it an easy decision for Slater to walk away from State of Origin knowing his Maroons jersey is in good hands.
The Panthers supremo told the Six Tackles with Gus podcast on Wednesday that he believes Slater will make the decision himself regardless of whether Queensland is leading or trailing in the 2018 series.
The Channel 9 commentator declared Ponga will wear the No. 1 jumper for Queensland this year - it's just a question of which game Slater decides to follow Melbourne Storm teammate Cameron Smith into representative retirement.
Slater's representative retirement would be the end of an era following the decisions of superstars Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk to concentrate on their club-level football.
With Smith joining Thurston in making himself unavailable for his state and country, the Maroons are without an established goal-kicker just three weeks out from the series opener in Melbourne - making the option of selecting Knights rising star Ponga more attractive, Queensland coach Kevin Walters admitted on Wednesday.
Gould said the impact Ponga has been having on Newcastle's impressive start to 2018 is reason enough for him to be picked at fullback ahead of Slater.
When asked if Ponga should be considered for a bench utility role for Queensland, Gould said it wouldn't be fair to Ponga or Slater to ask either of them to play in the centres or wing this series.
"Billy Slater at some stage through this series will hand over the reigns to Kalyn Ponga," Gould said.
"Kalyn Ponga will play Origin this year. Billy Slater will see that and hand it on to him."
Gould said Slater could even make the decision before Origin Game 1.
"Whether he does that straight away, I don't know," he said.
"Cameron Smith's decision might influence Billy as far as this series is concerned. They're both at the same stage of their careers.
"If Billy plays, I still think at some stage this series he will hand over to Kalyn Ponga."
"Billy Slater is the greatest fullback I have ever seen. Ever. I have never seen a fullback do what he does on the field. Not just the stuff you got to see but the stuff that could have happened because he was always in the area and the amount of ground he covers.
"But right now, today, Kalyn Ponga is having more influence on results than Billy Slater. Father time is undefeated. Billy is playing well, but nowhere near at the start of his career.
"If Cooper Cronk's not going to be there and Cameron Smith's not going to be there does that really say Billy is going to be able to go in there and play the type of football that he wants to play. Or do we look for a whole fresh new start. I would like to see them blood the kid at some stage.
"It's only a matter of time."
Gould also declared the retirement of Smith leaves South Sydney superstar Greg Inglis as the only real option to captain Queensland this year.
Meanwhile, Walters said that brilliant 20-year-old Ponga's goal-kicking could make him a consideration despite his inexperience.
"We've been so blessed over the years with Thurston and Cameron Smith, I don't remember anyone else taking a shot at goal for Queensland in the last 15 years," Walters told Sky Sports Radio.
"It's so important, goal kicking today ... Smith was up around 80 per cent in games, it's a huge thing particularly in Origin." Cameron Munster (career strike rate of 12 from 25), Valentine Holmes (23 from 32) and Ben Hunt (15 from 36) have kicked intermittently for their clubs over their careers.
Daly Cherry-Evans is considered a good striker of the ball however he would be at long odds to unseat Ben Hunt, Munster or Michael Morgan for a halves spot. Ponga has been patchy with the boot this season - striking them at 17 from 26 (65 per cent).
And he did dump himself as the Knight's first-choice goal-kicker after having a shocker against the Wests Tigers in round seven.
Regardless Walters indicated he was a potential solution to the Maroons' conundrum.
"He is a goal kicker, so that certainly does put him into the frame if that 's the line we go along," Walters said.
Over the course of Queensland's 11 series win over the last 12 years, Smith and Thurston's goal-kicking has proven vital.
During that time, the Maroons won seven games by two points or less and another two by four points.
Had it not been for their radar boots, the Maroons' dynasty may have been significantly reduced.
"The last couple of years we've won games by a goal kick, we know how important it is," Walters said.
The question is where would Ponga fit into the Maroons backline, with Slater having the No.1 jumper under lock and key.
There's no doubting the elusive youngster's exceptional talent with ball in hand.
After 10 NRL rounds, Ponga is second on the Dally M leaderboard behind Andrew Fifita and he has guided the Knights in the absence of injured skipper Mitchell Pearce.
Walters was well aware of Ponga's inexperience, with just 19 first-grade games under his belt but believed there was a decent precedent.
"Smith, I think had about 15 (18) games of first-grade before his first Origin game," Walters said.
- with AAP