KNIGHTS fulback Kalyn Ponga is in line to become the youngest player ever to win rugby league’s most coveted individual honour, the Dally M gold medal.
After 11 rounds, the game’s hottest prospect is joint leader with Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita in the Dally M voting, judged each week on a three-two-one basis by former players and media experts.
Ponga and Fifita each have 16 points, one more than Penrith playmaker James Maloney.
St George Illawarra skipper Garth Widdop (14 points), Tigers halfback Luke Brooks (13), Titans lock Jai Arrow (12), and Newcastle captain Mitchell Pearce, Titans half Ash Taylor and Warriors fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (all 11) round out the leaderboard.
The youngest Dally M recipient since it was launched in 1980 was Penrith champion Greg Alexander in 1985.
Alexander turned 20 two weeks before the 1985 season kicked off. Canterbury fullback Mick Potter, who won the award in 1984, was 20 years and six months old when that season started.
Ponga did not turn 20 until three rounds into this season.
In terms of games played, Potter – now overseeing Ponga’s development in his role as assistant to Knights coach Nathan Brown – has been the most inexperienced winner.
He had appeared in only 23 top-grade fixtures, compared to Alexander’s 47.
Ponga has played 20 times at NRL level and will have 33 games to his name if he appears each week between now and the end of the regular season.
Rated a $67 long shot in the TAB’S Dally M market when he first arrived in Newcastle from North Queensland, Ponga has steadily firmed and is now the outright favourite at $5.
He is the NRL leader in the categories of tackle breaks (85), line-break assists (12) and kick-return metres (669).
And while most of his rivals in the Dally M race play for high-flying teams and have to share points with teammates, the absence of Pearce for another four or five games with a pectoral injury leaves Ponga as Newcastle’s go-to man.
The only Knights to have won the Dally M gold medal are former Newcastle, NSW and Australian captains Andrew Johns and Danny Buderus.
Johns became the first player to win three times (1998, 1999 and 2002) and Buderus collected it in 2004.