In the opinion of rival players, Kalyn Ponga has been the NRL’s biggest star in 2018.
Now all that’s left is whether the brilliant young fullback’s stellar breakout season for the Newcastle Knights will also see him take home the Dally M Medal.
A week after winning the Newcastle Knights’ player of the year, Ponga was crowned The Players’ Champion at Tuesday night’s RLPA awards in Sydney.
He beat a shortlisted field of contenders including Warriors fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, South Sydney hooker Damien Cook, Sharks fullback Valentine Holmes and Melbourne Storm five-eighth Cameron Munster for the gong, voted on by the players.
If he claims the double, Ponga will become the eighth player in the 15-year history of The Players’ Champion award to do so.
Three out of the last four Players’ Champion winners also went on the claim the Dally M including Johnathan Thurston in 2014-15 and Jason Taumalolo in 2016.
Ponga is currently equal third favourite alongside Holmes with Sportsbet to win the Dally M behind favourite Tuivasa-Sheck and Cook, with the winner to be crowned on Monday, September 24.
When voting went in-camera after round 12, Penrith’s James Maloney led the field on 17 points with Ponga, Tigers halfback Luke Brooks and Sharks prop Andrew Fifita a point behind on 16.
Dragons playmaker Gareth Widdop was a further two points adrift on 14 with Tuivasa-Sheck, Cook and Titans’ Jai Arrow all on 12.
The query over Ponga’s chances are how big an effect injuries will play at the back end of the season.
He will go in for minor surgery on his troublesome ankle today after playing in eight of the Knights’ final 12 games, missing four of the last eight through injury.
He did not play in wins over Parramatta [round 17] and the Titans [round 18] or losses to the Sharks and Dragons in the final two rounds.
He would also not have polled any points in the loss to the Bulldogs in round 16 after he limped off with a hamstring injury prior to halftime.
Of the other seven games, the Knights won three and lost four but whether he polled enough to keep the likes of Tuivasa-Sheck, Cook or Holmes at bay is the question.
Meanwhile, Ponga’s ankle surgery will almost certainly force him out of contention for the Prime Minister’s Xlll clash with Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby on October 6.
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But he should have recovered in time if he was to get a call-up into the Kangaroos squad for the October 27 Test against New Zealand in Auckland.
There are suggestions he could be part of an extended squad for the clash even if he fails to be selected in the final 17.
“I’m not banking on it to be honest,”Ponga said.
“I really want to concentrate on just getting my ankle right.”