Watch: 'It's gonna be a pretty special moment': State of Origin rookie Kalyn Ponga to reunite with loved ones after family tragedy

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Kalyn Ponga has had to overcome more than most to make his State of Origin debut for Queensland.

After his State of Origin debut, family members will be brought into the Queensland sheds for a special reunion at ANZ Stadium.
Source: 1 NEWS

Only this week was it revealed that the 20-year-old suffered a life-threatening brain infection when he was in high school.

Kalyn has also spoken about the difficulty of losing his 18-month old brother Kacey in 2006.

Today several members of his family left New Zealand to make the trip to Sydney's ANZ Stadium on behalf of his uncle Nathaniel Ponga, who he credits as a huge inspiration, and who tragically passed away just weeks ago.

"Obviously we suffered a huge loss for our family just last month and this is one of our brother's dreams – to go [to watch Kalyn play State of Origin]," said family member Leon Blake at Auckland Airport.

"We're doing it for Kalyn but we do it also for our brother who passed away and we'll definitely be taking him with us, and I'm sure he'll be there smiling upon Kalyn as well as us. So we’re happy to go on his behalf."

Just days after being diagnosed with leukaemia, Nathaniel passed away in Palmerston North where Kalyn spent much of his teenage years as a New Zealand under-13 golf champion. The death rocked the family, especially Kalyn who was preparing to play the Sharks the following day.

Because the Knights star was unable to leave Newcastle for the funeral his father Andre Ponga has organised for family, including Nathaniel's wife, to be brought into the Queensland changing rooms to reunite with Kalyn for the first time since the tragedy.

"I just mentioned to him that Tina and the Blake family are coming over which is pretty sentimental for us with the loss of Nate," said Andre.

"It's a pretty special debut for the Ponga whānau. There's a lot of meaning going into tonight's game. He's going to be excited to see the family in the sheds after the game – it's going to be a pretty special moment.

Kalyn Ponga and Billy Slater

Kalyn Ponga and Billy Slater

Source: Getty

"People think Kalyn is inspirational to the family but in Kalyn's eyes Nate was the man."

Kalyn will make his debut off the bench as Queensland looks to level the series against New South Wales in Melbourne.

To mark the occasion, sports apparel brand Steedan have designed a custom head gear using Māori designs to represent Kalyn's heritage.

Tomorrow the Ponga family will travel to Newcastle where Kalyn now lives, having signed a four-year deal with the Knights.

"We're just looking forward to spending some quality time with each other," said Andre. "We always cherish those moments when we get together as family."

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