Tedesco admits Ponga drives him to be No.1
THEY'RE responsible for 117 tackle busts, 28 linebreaks and 15 tries at NRL level this season, and on Sunday night James Tedesco and Kalyn Ponga are set to resume what could become State of Origin's greatest fullback rivalry.
In the beginning there was NSW's Garry Jack up against Colin Scott, and later Gary Belcher.
Maroons great Darren Lockyer battled the Blues' Tim Brasher and Anthony Minichiello before moving to five-eighth.
And recently retired Billy Slater took up hostilities against the likes of Brett Stewart and Jarryd Hayne during his Origin career.
But with Blues No.1 Tedesco, 26, and Maroons sensation Ponga just 21, this rivalry could top the lot.
Ahead of their clash at Optus Stadium on Sunday night, Tedesco says Ponga's scintillating form motivates him to be the best fullback in the game.
"Kalyn is playing some great footy and he definitely motivates me to be number one," Tedesco said. "It makes me want to keep improving and not rest on my laurels.
"The stuff he does with the ball, it's motivational for me to keep working and get to his level and to keep improving.
"Everyone is aware how much of a freak he is with the ball.
"His ball-playing skills are at a high level at the moment."
That doesn't mean Tedesco is conceding Ponga is a better player.
"Not in terms of a fullback," he said.
"But in terms of ball playing. He is probably one of the best in the game.
"His ability to create is definitely up there. I'm not saying he's better or worse but it's a motivation to get better."
Ironically, Newcastle coach Nathan Brown has made Ponga watch Sydney Roosters games to model parts of his game on the attacking brilliance of Tedesco.
"Obviously we know how good he is when he's got the ball and how quick he is and all that," Ponga said.
"But just watching him off the ball and defensively and in attack, and just consciously trying to think about it at training and then applying it to the game.
"He does things that I can't do and vice versa, so I just want to slowly implement them into my game."
Australian coach Mal Meninga will have a hell of a decision on whether Tedesco or Ponga wins the Kangaroos fullback spot for the end-of-year Tests against New Zealand and Tonga, although insiders suggest the Blues No.1 has the edge.
"I'm not thinking about it too much," Tedesco said.
"If I'm worried about playing better than him then that's not best for the team.
"My job is to be focused on how I play my best footy and doing the best for the Blues.
"If I'm playing my best footy for NSW and for my club then the representative honour will come."
Tedesco and Ponga top off a hefty list of star fullbacks.
"There are so many great fullbacks in the game. Tom (Trbojevic) is playing great footy. You've got Roger (Tuivasa-Sheck) as well, so many are the best players in their team," Tedesco said.