Knights coach Nathan Brown will refuse the temptation to wrap dynamic young playmaker Kalyn Ponga in cotton wool for Saturday week’s pre-season trial against St George Illawarra if he comes through Friday night’s All Stars clash in Melbourne unscathed.
Ponga will spearhead the New Zealand Maoris’ attack against the Indigenous All Stars at AAMI Park with coach Stacey Jones expected to want to see his star five-eighth in the action for an extended period.
But rather than rest Ponga for the Dragons clash in preparation for the club’s final trial against Cronulla at Maitland a week later, Brown wants to give the 20-year-old as much time as possible alongside new halves partner Mitchell Pearce in a bid to iron out any kinks.
“We don’t have the luxury of having a settled squad with few changes from last season so we have to take every opportunity we can to work on combinations,” Brown said.
“You can replicate it at training as much as possible but nothing beats an actual game scenario when you are looking to build combinations.
You can replicate it at training as much as possible but nothing beats an actual game scenario.Nathan Brown
“At this stage, I’ll be looking to give Mitchell and Kalyn around 40 minutes together against the Dragons although it could be a bit less. But they won’t play anymore than that.”
The All Stars game will be only the second time in his career that last season’s Dally M Medal runner-up has started at five-eighth.
He was moved there for the Knights in round 23 against the Panthers late last season when he was still inconvenienced by an ankle injury.
Ponga told the Newcastle Herald he was surprised to be chosen by the fans in the number six jumper for All Stars.
“Yeah, I was probably more expecting to be named at fullback if I was chosen because it’s where I’ve played,” he said.
“But it’s good that I get this early chance to play at five-eighth. I’ve been working really hard over the pre-season with Pearcey at training and he’s been great with showing me a lot of stuff.
“Hopefully, I can put some of that into practice in All Stars.”
The Knights other two All Stars representatives, Jesse Ramien and Danny Levi, will also play in the Dragons trial.
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All three Knights senior grades will feature at Kogarah with Brown indicating he will give most of his full-time squad game time in the top grade including several youngsters yet to make their NRL debut.
“We’ll use quite a few players and give the fringe guys and some of the young blokes a taste of what they can expect in the NRL,” he said.