Kalyn Ponga was reduced to tears on Friday night, less than ten days after his stunning Origin decider performance, after yet another concussion saw him ruled out of the contest.
The Newcastle Knights captain played just eight minutes against the Roosters before an innocuous knock to the head saw the fullback leave for his fifth HIA this season. While contact from Rooster recruit Matt Lodge looked minimal, it was enough for Kalyn to fail his third HIA in 2022.
The spotlight began on Luke Keary, who returned from concussion to play his first game in six weeks, however shifted quickly as head coach Adam O'Brien was forced to shift Anthony Milford to fullback for the remaining 72 minutes of the contest.
Similarly to Keary, an extended break from the game may be the best option for the distraught Ponga, especially with all three failed HIAs coming with in the last six weeks.
While O'Brien holds fears for Ponga's health, the under-pressure coach is more concerned about the mental wellbeing of his captain.
“He’s upset at the moment. He wants to come back and play well at the club, especially after Origin, but we’ll go through the process during the week,” O’Brien told reporters during the post-match press conference.
“He’s had a couple but I’m more concerned about how upset he is at the moment. He’s pretty emotional and he feels like he’s let everyone down, but at the end of the day, he’s copped a whack to the head – and he’s had a couple – so we need to go and get it all looked at.”
Former Newcastle Knight Connor Watson went to check on his ex-house mate post-game, and expressed his concern about Ponga's health.
“He’s a tough character but it’s just one of those things, because head knocks are a bit of the unknown. There’s more and more science on it now, so he’s probably going to have to have a little bit of time off, I’d say," Watson told nrl.com.
“I’m not exactly sure with the rules and stuff, but hopefully he can have a bit of time off and get it sorted but it’s hard, you know. How do you control getting hit in the head?
“It’s a contact sport, but I really feel for him.”
Newcastle will face Canterbury at McDonald Jones Stadium next Sunday, though the odds of their captain taking place in the line-up are drifting by the day.