All the talk this week has been about the status of two of rugby league’s greatest gambles of 2019, neither of which are working.
For those who haven’t been reading (somewhat lucky you) there are big calls for Paul McGregor to end his near farcical five into four experiment, and for Nathan Brown to move Kalyn Ponga back to fullback.
We’ll focus first on the Knights shift.
Following the Knight’s loss to Penrith on Saturday afternoon, reporters were quick to ask if Brown was considering moving Ponga back to the fullback position.
The thinking was that Ponga, who had been quiet in comparison to his 2018 form, was now making too many tackles to have the creative spark in attack.
The move is obviously in its infancy and may still prove to be a masterstroke, but one glorious try-assist aside, Ponga has been kept very quiet in the opening fortnight of the competition.
Brown was quick to shut this down, almost with anger. He stated that Ponga wants to play five-eighth and that his position is now in the six.
Many Knights fans reacted in a way that suggests they’re waiting for Ponga’s return to the custodian role that almost landed him the 2018 Dally M medal despite missing rounds through injury.
It would certainly be the easy and safe option to shift Ponga back to fullback with either Watson reverting into the halves, or a youngster named.
Most of the NRL community assumed Ponga would be named at one this week after Conor Watson was ruled out through injury.
It would provide Brown an easy fix, as well as an easy out, and he could always shift back in the coming weeks when Watson returns.
Instead the Knights mentor has named Kurt Mann in the role.
Mann has plenty of footy at fullback but is more known for playing centre, wing or off the bench. He was bought to Newcastle to play, and has been training for, a full time move into the hooking role.
So the Knights will run out this weekend with a five-eighth who is really a fullback, and a fullback who is a hooker but is actually a winger/centre.
There’s a line of thinking that Ponga has insisted on continuing in the halves.
Ponga does not come across as the kind of young man who would insist on anything if he didn’t believe it were in the best interests of both himself and the team.
Even if he had, Brown is surely experienced enough to say “thanks for your input, now go catch some bombs”.
I don’t buy into that line of thinking at all. This is purely the decision of Nathan Brown.
As I said earlier, and in the pre-season, I don’t mind the move at all, it may work out in a big way. Long-term I can’t see how it could fail, but right now the Knights best chances of winning are with Ponga at fullback.
Regarding the Dragons, the big news today has been Matt Dufty’s being dropped to play NSW Cup. He will be replaced by utility back Zac Lomax.
I 100 per cent agree with bringing Lomax back into the side. He’s a quality youngster with huge wraps.
I don’t agree with the decision to play him from the bench in any way, shape or form.
If Tim Lafai is injured, he should start at centre. If not, then either pick him in the run on side or let him rebuild his confidence for the Cutters.
I can see merit in Brown’s thinking but the sooner McGregor abandons this awful five into four farce, the better.
Dragons fans have literally started online petitions to oust their coach due to the frustrations caused by the inability to settle the best attacking players in the club.
Widdop right now is being wasted at fullback in what is almost certainly his last season in the Red V.
Corey Norman and Ben Hunt look all at sea and honestly don’t look like they’ve played together.
All three are brilliant players and there’s every chance they come out and put 50 on tonight and make me look like a fool. Wouldn’t be the first time…
That said, the Dragons can’t win the title unless they settle their 1, 6, 7 and 9.
Matt Dufty is too good to be playing reserve grade but that’s exactly where he’ll play this weekend.
Zac Lomax isn’t a bench utility, but that’s his role.
Widdop is the club’s best half, but can’t get a run in the six or seven, except for a few token minutes when the game is already gone.
What a mess!!!
I know why the Dragons signed Norman a year early. The Widdop news caught them off guard and they signed Norman early to ensure he would replace Widdop.
That’s awesome for 2020 and beyond, but if they don’t get it together in the next month, 2019 is a write off.
That probably sounds loaded with hyperbole but if the Dragons only win two of their next five games, where does that leave them?
Again, maybe the move will work long-term, but if the Dragons go 0-3 tonight, expect that petition to again do the rounds.