He has been a stunning revelation at fullback for the Newcastle Knights this season with rival coaches labeling him freakish and plenty of good judges pushing his barrow for Queensland Origin selection.
But a former Knights halfback says Kalyn Ponga needs to be careful he doesn’t over-play his hand in attack to the detriment of teammates and upset the rhythm of the team in the absence of Mitchell Pearce.
Matt Rodwell, a former ARL rookie of the year, who played more than 170 top grade games and now commentates on all Knights matches for KOFM, believes Ponga is trying too hard to be the be-all-and-end-all in attack with Pearce missing.
And he warns it may be having an adverse effect on the players around him because they are subconsciously sitting back, expecting the 20-year-old fullback to come up with a special play every time he touches the football.
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“He is a wonderful talent, don’t get me wrong, but I thought there were times against Penrith when he bullied Brock Lamb a little bit in terms of being the dominant playmaker at first receiver,” Rodwell said.
“I remember at one stage, Brock Lamb was screaming for the ball on the right and Ponga got it on the left and he threw a pretty poor cut-out pass with nothing really on. That’s when it caught my attention.
“When Mitchell was playing, Ponga was the loop man out the back all the time and he seems to have gone away from that and wants to be more involved as first receiver.
“Maybe it is a tactic for him to be more involved but it didn’t allow Brock Lamb to find his way into the game and he struggled to then feel comfortable and be the assertive playmaker the Knights need him to be.”
Rodwell said a by-product of Ponga wanting his hands on the football all the time is the expectation of teammates that he’ll be the one to create something. He is also more easily targeted by defenders.
“For mine, Ponga was at his best when he worked with Pearce, being that link man out the back,” he said.
“He is obviously playing with a lot of confidence and he has come up with some really good stuff at times when at first receiver.
“But I felt for Lamb because it was an opportunity for him but it ended up being a bit of a missed opportunity.
“I’m not sure if Ponga is taking it apon himself to try and and I’m sure he has good intentions but I just think he was guilty at times of upsetting the rhythm of the team.
Rodwell believes the Knights would be better served if the star fullback was more selective about when he gets involved in the play.
“He’s a super player but he has to get the balance right and be a bit more selective and not feel like he has to be the one to create something on every play,” Rodwell said.
“If he just injects himself at the right time, he probably poses more of a threat. If he is in there all the time, he is getting knocked around.
“Even if the footy doesn’t go to him, he can still have defenders on edge.”