Newcastle KnightsKalyn Ponga set to resume goalkicking duties against Cronulla on Sunday.

KNIGHTS fullback Kalyn Ponga has beenreinstated as goalkicker forSunday’s clash with Cronulla at Beanies For Brain Cancer Stadium, in what will be his final audition for a Queensland State of Origin call-up.

Maroons selectors name their squad on Monday for the series opener, to be held at the MCG on June 6,and the most likely scenario for Ponga is that he is included as a standby player to train with the squad and gain experience.

But a hamstring problem that forced Melbourne champion Billy Slater to pull out of last night’s clash with North Queensland has complicated matters.

HOT SHOT: Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga has been reinstated as goalkicker for Sunday’s clash with Cronulla. He has landed 17 goals from 26 attempts this season, at 65 per cent. Picture: Adam McLean

According the the Storm’s website, Slater was ruled out “as a precaution with hamstring tightness”.

With 12 days to recover before Origin I, the veteran is expected to be available, but if he suffered any further setbacks, Brisbane’s Darius Boyd and Ponga would appearthe leading candidates to replace him.

Queensland coach Kevin Walters admitted last week that Ponga’s ability with the boot might be required after the representative retirements of Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith.

“He is a goalkicker, so that certainly does put him into the frame if that’s the line we go along,”Walterssaid.

Ponga started the season as Newcastle’s kicker and landed 16 goals from his 20 attempts, at a strike rate of 80 per cent.

But he then kicked one from five in the 22-20 win against Wests Tigers in round seven, and after liaising with Knights coach Nathan Brown, handed the duties to winger Ken Sio so that he could prepare for Newcastle’s next game with a “clear mind”.

The broken cheekbone Brock Lamb suffered in last week’s loss to Gold Coast means left-footer Ponga will again step up to the tee.

“KP was kicking pretty well, and then he had the one off night,’’ Brown said.

“Then he wasn’t kicking, because Brock’s obviously a very good goalkicker, and that was another reason Brock came into the side, and he kicked very well last week.

“So KP will kick, and we’ll just stick with KP for the rest of the year. He’ll work hard at it and I’m sure he’ll get it going OK.”

Sunday’s clash will feature the joint leaders in the race for Dally M gold medal, Ponga and Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita, who are one point ahead of Penrith playmaker James Maloney.

Newcastle will be hoping to end a three-game losing streak against a Sharks outfit who have beaten them in six consecutive games.

Another loss could leave the Knights four points adrift of the top eight at the halfway point in the season.

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