His footwork and speed bamboozled rival defences and left many of the game’s greats searching for superlatives after a stunning debut season for the Newcastle Knights.
So it was hardly a surprise whiz-kid Kalyn Ponga cleaned up at the Knights Awards on Wednesday night, taking home three major gongs including the prestigious Danny Buderus Medal for Player of the Year.
Ponga was one of four finalists in the running to win the Medal with Mitchell Pearce, Aidan Guerra and Slade Griffin all nominated for the award.
In a special night for the brilliant young fullback and his family, Ponga was also named Players’ Player of the Year and Community Player of the Year.
With Buderus unable to attend the black tie function at NEX because of a prior engagement, Ponga was presented with his medal by another club legend Paul Harragon.
And it could well be only the start of a 2018 awards bonanza for the dynamic 20-year-old.
Ponga is currently rated third favourite to win the Dally M Medal for the NRL’s best player this season behind Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and South Sydney hooker Damien Cook.
Hamstring and ankle injuries late in the season that saw him miss four matches may potentially cost him rugby league’s greatest individual prize but he is also strongly favoured to take home the Dally M for Fullback of the Year.
Knights coach Nathan Brown said Ponga’s first full season in the the NRL after signing with the Knights from North Queensland had been extraordinary.
“For a young guy, his consistency was the thing that impressed me most, especially in the position of fullback where the workload is so high,” Brown said.
“His ability to help us win games under pressure is another remarkable attribute for a young guy.
“He wanted the ball when the game was on the line and those kinds of players are the ones that can help you get to where you need to get to at the end of the day.”
Ponga finished the season playing 20 matches. He scored six tries and kicked 27 goals, had 11 try-assists, made 12 line breaks, 140 tackle busts and averaged almost 142 metres a game.
Hard-working backrower Aidan Guerra’s stellar season was also recognised.
One of only two players [along with winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall] to play in all 24 matches for the club, the former Sydney Roosters veteran picked up two major awards.
Guerra finished the season as the club’s leading defender, making more than 950 tackles, and was named Gladiator of the Year.
His consistency was also acknowledged when he took home the Coaches Award.
Bulldogs-bound fullback Nick Meaney will leave the Knights with a memento to take with him to Belmore – the Rookie of the Year gong – making a big impression after breaking into the NRL squad towards the back-end of the season.
The leading players in the club’s lower grade sides were also acknowledged by the Knights at the Awards.
In the NSW Cup, Luke Yates won the Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year with Zac Hosking taking home the Coaches Award.
The Jersey Flegg Under 20’s Player of the Year was won by Queensland Under 20’s backrower Beau Fermor, Mathew Croker won Players’ Player of the Year and the Coaches Award went to Kurtis Dark.
Past Danny Buderus Medal winners include:
2017 – Mitch Barnett
2016 – Dane Gagai
2015 – Kurt Gidley
2014 – Beau Scott