Recently appointed Knights coach Adam O’Brien won’t be repeating predecessor Nathan Brown’s use of Kalyn Ponga at five-eighth anytime soon.
The former Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters assistant told The Sydney Morning Herald this week, “I won’t be experimenting with him in the halves; he will be our fullback.”
Ponga said he’ll accept any role as Newcastle attempts to improve on this year’s 10-14 win-loss record, which resulted in 11th place on the ladder.
Despite their abilities, attack has been an issue for Newcastle as they attempt to consolidate and develop a more consistent blend of technicality and aggression.
The Knights began 2019 with Ponga in the no.6 jersey, until utility and full back at the time Connor Watson missed two weeks with injury, as Brown accepted some blame for their shaky start to the season.
The Knights lost five of their first six matches due to errors and lack of run from defence before Watson was moved to hooker, with Ponga at full back, winning their next six in a row. They then lost another six in a row to effectively destroy their chance of a first finals appearance since 2013.
“I’ll play wherever the coach wants me, so if he wants me at the back I’ll play at the back,” said Ponga. “Wherever the coach wants me and whatever suits the team.”
The 23-year-old had a stellar 2018 season in which he was voted Newcastle’s Player of the Year. He also produced an outstanding State of Origin debut, coming from the interchange to play in the middle with lightning speed and skill.
Ponga played full back in both his Origin appearances this year.
As they continue to develop, Ponga remains optimistic The Knights will progress further towards their first premiership since 2001.
“The whole club, all the boys, are very excited to start and rip in. We’ve got a new coach and we’re excited to see what he brings and get working.”