The Newcastle Knights are gearing up for their crucial clash against the Redcliffe Dolphins, with star player Kalyn Ponga grateful that he made the decision to rule himself out of this year’s Origin series. Ponga’s limited game time due to concussion concerns had prompted former Maroons player Billy Slater to advise him to sit out the series and focus on his own form with the Knights. Since returning to fullback in Round 13, Ponga has been instrumental in the Knights‘ recent success, helping them secure wins over the Bulldogs, Wests Tigers, Storm, and Raiders. They now sit just one point outside the top eight heading into Round 23.
Ponga expressed his relief at his decision, stating, “They (Queensland) got the job done so I’m glad that I did that. It sort of just gave me that clarity.” He credited Slater for encouraging him to focus on himself, saying, “Billy (Slater) was instrumental in that as well, he actually said to me ‘it’s probably just better for you to sit it out and focus on yourself.’ Not even for the Knights, just for myself.”
Ponga acknowledged the challenging start to the season, marked by head knocks and a difficult period, but he emphasised that stepping back and refocusing on the Knights and his enjoyment of the game was the right decision.
Ponga’s recent form is even more remarkable considering his history of head injuries. He underwent advanced neurophysiological testing in Vancouver after suffering his fourth head injury in 10 months earlier in the season.
Reflecting on his journey, Ponga admitted, “When I first came back to be honest I was a bit nervous. I wasn’t hesitant but I was nervous just because at one point there I was looking at retirement at 25. To be through that and be past that and just be playing footy and enjoying what I do. I guess that’s footy, the rollercoaster that we play.”
While he believes he is playing well, Ponga remains focused on improvement. He stated, “I’m really just doing what the team wants of me and asks for me.” The Knights have experienced inconsistency earlier in the season, but their new-look spine, featuring recruits Jackson Hastings and Tyson Gamble as the halves partnership alongside hooker Phoenix Crossland, has been firing on all cylinders in recent weeks. Ponga expressed his excitement about the continuity and growth of the spine, particularly highlighting the impressive performances of Hastings and Gamble, who are in their first season with the Knights. He remains optimistic about the team’s chances of securing a spot in the top eight as long as they can maintain their cohesion, continue to improve, and keep everyone fit and on the field.