Knights star Kalyn Ponga’s Dally M Medal hopes could rest on a miracle recovery with the brilliant young playmaker’s chances of playing again this season now in serious doubt.
In a massive blow to Newcastle’s chances of upsetting Cronulla on Sunday at Shark Park, Ponga did not train with the side yesterday and was walking around in a moon boot to protect his injured ankle, which he has bravely carried into the Knights’ last four matches.
And while coach Nathan Brown said he will give Ponga up until Saturday to prove his fitness for Sunday’s clash against the Sharks, privately, he is considered no hope of playing.
"It's the same problem - it's just some days you think it is getting better, but his problem is getting a little worse," Brown said of Ponga's ankle problem.
"So whether he gets to this week's game or next week is anyone's guess at this stage."
Sources at the club say Ponga is also at long odds to be fit to take on St George Illawarra in the final round.
Connor Watson, returning this week after a month on the sideline with a groin tear, will now partner Mitchell Pearce in the halves against the Sharks with Nick Meaney to retain his place at fullback.
Ponga’s ankle flare-up is not totally unexpected.
Brown was keen to give him a rest prior to last weekend’s clash against Penrith, telling the Newcastle Herald at the time he doubted Ponga would get through the final three games of the season without a week off at some stage.
But the 20-year-old was keen to play against the Panthers and got through some training to ultimately convince the coach to play him.
Brown moved him from fullback to five-eighth in a bid to restrict the amount of running he would have to do in the game as a result.
But while he played the full 80 minutes against the Panthers, the injury finally caught up with him this week and he has been absent from the training paddock for the club’s two sessions.
Aside from the obvious blow to the Knights chances of taking down the Sharks, Ponga’s hopes of becoming the youngest player to win the prestigious Dally M Medal will also take a hit if he fails to play the club’s final two games.
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When the voting for the Dally M’s went behind closed doors in the last week of May, Ponga was just behind Penrith’s James Maloney and the Sharks’ Andrew Fifita on the leaderboard.
But he suffered a hamstring injury during the first half of the Knights’ Round 16 loss to the Bulldogs and missed his side’s following two games against Parramatta and Gold Coast that may have set him back.
Despite that, prior to the news of his injury yesterday, he was still rated a $4.50 chance with the TAB to win the game’s greatest individual award, behind Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck [$3.00] and Souths hooker Damien Cook [$3.50].