Ponga a risk but Suncorp is Maroons 14th man: Bennett

Kalyn Ponga's selection for Queensland is a calculated risk but Wayne Bennett also says Suncorp Stadium looms as the inspirational 14th man for the Maroons in the State of Origin series decider.

Bennett coached Queensland in 25 Origin matches including the 2-1 series win in 2020 when the side won the decider 20-14 at Suncorp Stadium after being written off following a 34-10 thrashing in game two.

A similar scenario faces the Maroons this year after copping a 38-18 hiding at the MCG.

"The greatest advantage Queensland has got is Suncorp. The one thing you know is that the crowd will be behind that team," Bennett said.

"That makes such a difference. It is like playing with 14 guys on the field. The crowd gets engaged and it keeps the players highly motivated. It is fortunate that they get to come back and play that last game here and the stats tell you how dominant we have been in those deciders. 

"The stats are made up of a number of years of performances and what they are saying is NSW haven't won many games when it mattered most."

The Blues have won deciders in Brisbane just twice - in 1994 and 2005 - while losing 10 and drawing one. 

Bennett was at the helm of the 1987 win in the decider at Lang Park and the 2001 victory at QEII Stadium when he famously brought back Allan Langer from England to play in a 40-14 victory. That was a risk, like playing Ponga.

"He is a wonderful player but he has had one game in about three months," Bennett said.

"They are talking about playing him in the middle That is high risk, but Origin is about risk. 

"It could turn out to be a great move. It could turn out to hurt you."

Newcastle fullback Ponga returned successfully to the NRL in the Knights' 16-12 win over Canberra on Sunday following 11 weeks on the sidelines with a Lisfranc injury to his foot.

Ponga, named on the bench for Queensland, last played for the Maroons in the 22-12 win in the 2022 decider in Brisbane when he had his best game for his state. 

The 26-year-old did debut off the bench in 2018 when he played in the middle and showcased his versatility in a similar role to the one he will play in the decider.

The Maroons are lacking a genuine old-fashioned enforcer in the pack with aggressive trio Tom Gilbert, Thomas Flegler and Tino Fa'asuamaleaui all unavailable due to injury. 

Bennett said that would not be an issue for the Maroons.

"Those three guys are the top players in the game so there is obviously an issue there but I think they have handled it well," Bennett said.

"Look, they will be wearing Queensland jerseys and playing at Suncorp Stadium. They will lift and play well above themselves. I have no doubt about that."

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