Kalyn Ponga, the talented fullback and captain of the nib Newcastle Knights, has been awarded the prestigious Danny Buderus Medal for being the Knights NRL Player of the Year. Throughout the season, Ponga faced significant challenges but managed to bounce back and lead the Knights into the finals, ultimately securing his third Buderus Medal. His previous wins were in 2018 and 2020.
Ponga made a total of 18 appearances in the 2023 season, showcasing his skills by scoring eight tries, making 40 successful goals, and providing 20 try-assists. His exceptional form in the later rounds of the season truly stood out. In a tight battle for the Player of the Year award, Ponga narrowly edged out other outstanding performers such as Dane Gagai, Tyson Frizell, and Leo Thompson.
Upon receiving the award on stage from Danny Buderus and Head Coach Adam O’Brien, Ponga expressed his deep gratitude and honor. He acknowledged the support of his family during some difficult times and credited his belief in himself and his unwavering dedication. Furthermore, Ponga emphasised the collective effort of the team, stating that while he was accepting an individual award, it was truly a testament to the team’s commitment and teamwork. Ponga concluded by mentioning the team’s excitement for the upcoming finals and their determination to give their best.
During the 2023 Awards Night held at NEX in Newcastle, several other deserving players were recognised. Tyson Frizell, known for his consistency, received the Players’ Player Award from his teammates. Dylan Lucas, a versatile second-row forward who made his debut this season, was honored as the Rookie of the Year after making six appearances in the top grade. Phoenix Crossland, who transitioned to the dummy-half position this year, was acknowledged with the Gladiator of the Year Award for his tremendous contributions. Jacob Saifiti‘s exceptional community work led to him being awarded the Community Player of the Year. He was also nominated for the highly regarded Ken Stephen Medal. Leo Thompson‘s impressive performance in 2023 resulted in him winning the Knight in Shining Armour Award. Assistant Coach Blake Green received recognition as the Kilpatrick Club Person of the Year. In addition, Dane Gagai and Daniel Saifiti became life members for the Club due to their remarkable contributions to the red and blue jersey.
In the lower grades, Adam Clune was named the NSW Cup Player of the Year, while Jack Johns was awarded Players’ Player. In the Jersey Flegg Cup, Jack Cullen claimed the Player of the Year Award, and Brock Greacen took home the Players’ Player honor.
The night also acknowledged various NRL achievements, including the debut of players such as Dylan Lucas (#340), Ryan Rivett (#341), Tom Cant (#342), and Riley Jones (#345). Major milestones were recognised for Dane Gagai (250 NRL Games, 150 Knights Games), Daniel Saifiti (150 NRL and Knights Games), Kalyn Ponga (100 NRL and Knights Games), Lachlan Fitzgibbon (100 NRL and Knights Games), Tyson Frizell (50 Knights Games), Phoenix Crossland (50 NRL and Knights Games), Bradman Best (50 NRL and Knights Games), Brodie Jones (50 NRL and Knights Games), and Jack Hetherington (50 NRL Games). The evening also bid farewell to departing players and staff members, including Lachlan Miller, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Kurt Mann, Hymel Hunt, Bailey Hodgson, Dane Aukafolau, Adam Clune, Dominic Young, Simi Sasagi, and Jack Johns. These individuals have contributed significantly to the Knights and will be missed.
Overall, the 2023 NRL Awards Night celebrated the exceptional performances and achievements of the Newcastle Knights players and staff, honoring their contributions to the team and the wider community.