With a modest earning of slightly over 10% of Kalyn Ponga‘s record-breaking $1.4 million salary, Phoenix Crossland has faced more than his share of criticism, both on social media and in person, during his early NRL career. Despite that, the self-proclaimed underdog relishes the pressure.
He revels in the fact that he, along with Tyson Gamble, another low-earning playmaker, brings a significant balance of budget and performance to the Newcastle roster. The pair’s combined performance has bolstered the team’s attacking prowess and ensures that Ponga earns his status as the league’s highest-paid player.
Crossland’s estimated annual salary of $150,000 situates him amongst the lowest paid spine players scheduled for this year’s finals. This rings true for match opponents Matt Frawley from Canberra and Gamble ($180,000), who on Sunday contend for the title of budget-priced Five-Eights in the elimination final.
Alongside halfback Jackson Hastings, who, like Ponga, is minimising their training this week due to injury, Newcastle’s spine has swiftly coalesced amidst injuries and rotation changes.
In six years at the club, the resulting thrilling nine-game winning streak heading to the finals and the fortifying stability offered by the team have allowed Ponga to achieve a career-high level of performance across the playmaking field in the Hunter.
Crossland acknowledges their inexpensive roster, saying, “We’re not a big pay packet spine. We’re pretty low-key and we like that. We like being underdogs, that’s what Newcastle’s built on, that blue collar, underdog status.
He adds, “We had people writing us off at the start of the year, predicting us at the bottom of the table, so proving those people wrong and continually doing so is a satisfying feeling.”
Gamble has enjoyed a successful season, with 22 games enabling him to earn bonuses that will exceed his salary beyond $200,000 next year. This also triggers potential extension talks for the offseason. Gamble, along with young players Greg Marzhew and Leo Thompson, who earn $180,000 and sub $150,000 respectively, are bringing undeniable value to the Knights.
Gamble said, “Kalyn can do some really freakish things obviously, but he’s also a really good decoy. Defenders are cautious with him having the ball too early because of his ability to step in either direction and outpace opposing players… a considerable amount of our game plan revolves around creating opportunities for Kalyn, which in effect, also creates for Jacko [Hastings], myself and some of our other team members as well.”
Crossland has taken on full-time dummy-half duties following co-captain Jayden Brailey‘s season-ending ACL rupture in April. Drawing from the expertise of Knights icon and football manager Danny Buderus, Crossland eagerly leads the Knights on the defensive line in his new role.
“Last year was definitely challenging,” Crossland recalls. “That was my first full year in first grade and it was a difficult year for the entire team. I wasn’t reaching the performance levels I aspired for. I learned that local fans are well aware of their rugby and aren’t afraid to point it out when you’re underperforming… Yet, they’re also the first to congratulate when you’re doing well. It’s a balancing act and we’ve made it a point to turnaround last season’s performance. That’s something we take great pride in.”