As they prepare for a fullback duel in Saturday's NRL All Stars match, Kalyn Ponga has backed Latrell Mitchell to succeed this season in his new position.
Mitchell confirmed on Monday his desire to play fullback this year after his off-season switch to South Sydney.
He is eager to cut his teeth in the position for the Indigenous All Stars at CBUS Super Stadium.
Ponga will don the No.1 jersey for the NZ Maori team in the pre-season match, having played at five-eighth in last year's game during a short-lived plan by then-Newcastle coach Nathan Brown to switch the 21-year-old to a halves role.
"When you're a natural athlete, you can make it work," Ponga said.
"I've played fullback for a long time. I play the way Latrell's going to play and, like I said, when you're a natural athlete, you can make it work.
"All I know is if he runs straight at me off a kick return, I'll be hoping I've got a few next to me."
Ponga had his first training run with his Maori teammates on a humid Tuesday morning on the Gold Coast. Coach David Kidwell is excited by the prospect of seeing him and Mitchell in competing fullback roles.
"Two big superstars of the game; both bring exciting traits to the game and obviously to both sides," Kidwell said.
"Young Kalyn, just seeing him around the guys, the way he carries himself, when he plays his football, great young fella and a future leader.
"Just admiring some of the stuff that he does on the field."
Ponga has also batted away concerns the return of Valentine Holmes might put his Maroons jersey under threat.
He says performing for the Maori and team Newcastle in the NRL is his main focus.
"I'm not really thinking about that," Ponga said when asked about his Origin prospects.
"Thinking about this and then obviously club. At the Knights, we want to do better. Obviously, if you're performing and doing well, then those things will come."
Australian Associated Press