Dynamic playmakers Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga claim Nathan Brown’s coaching philosophies are a major reason for the way they performed in 2018 and say they are aiming to take their games to an even higher level this season now that they have been paired in the halves.
Ponga was arguably the best player in the NRL last season while Pearce, despite missing nine games through injury, was as influential as any playmaker in the competition.
Both are adamant Brown can take a lot of the credit because of the trust and confidence he instilled in them and the systems he put in place to bring the best out of them.
”The style of footy we’ve adopted suits the way I like to play and Browny has done that purposely to try and bring out the best in me,” Pearce said.
“You get some coaches who play key players the wrong way by confining them to playing the way they want their team to play. Browny is the opposite.
“When Kalyn first lobbed here and everyone saw some of the crazy things he was doing at training, Browny put the right systems in place around him to try and maximise his potential.
“With me as a halfback, he has really helped my footy as well and I feel like I’ve really been evolving and getting better as a playmaker under him as coach.
“Being a bit older, the extra responsibility of being a senior leader has also helped my game too but Browny is a really smart operator. He just gives you a bit of licence and the confidence to play what’s in front of you.”
Ponga says it was Brown who encouraged him to really play to his strengths.
“Pearcey’s right – there is no doubt the way I played last year had a lot to do with Browny,” Ponga said.
“He’s very good at identifying what you are good at and allowing the team to bring that out in you. He had the confidence for me to be able to do things that I probably didn’t really even know I could do before and he encouraged it.
“He’s just really good at allowing you to play your game, play a bit instinctively, but still keep the structure in place and that’s what I did last year and was why I enjoyed it so much.”
It was Ponga who first went to Brown late last season with the idea of switching to the halves on a fulltime basis to partner Pearce this year.
He had been committed to remaining at fullback and Brown was happy to leave any decision on where he played to Ponga.
But the 20-year-old changed his thinking following his experience in the front line in Origin ll and after getting a small taste of the playmaking role for the Knights during Pearce’s injury absence.
“Now that we’ve had a pre-season together, it feels good,” he said.
“Hopefully, we can take it all to another level this season. Pearcey is such a great organiser and I’m getting more confident in the role.”
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Ponga confirmed he won’t be playing a conventional five-eighth’s role by being restricted to one side of the ruck.
“I’m not going to be stuck playing on one side which is what I mean about Browny and the licence he gives you,” he said.
“Playing one side just limits what I can do on the field I guess and is probably easier to read for opposition defences.”
Ponga will get his first real taste of five-eighth on Friday night in the All Stars game in Melbourne.