As his cousin, who was "like a sister" to Kalyn Ponga, is laid to rest in New Zealand today, the dynamic Newcastle Knights fullback will take the field against Manly at McDonald Jones Stadium to "honour" her memory.
After a heartbreaking three or four days, Ponga flew back into Sydney around lunchtime yesterday after attending a traditional Maori remembrance ceremony on Thursday in Wellington for his cousin, alongside a host of family and friends, following her tragic death.
He was back in Newcastle for a team meeting at 3.30 pm before a light training run an hour later with Knights insiders saying he is ready to play.
"He's such a strong kid,"one said.
His family has stayed behind in New Zealand to attend the burial service with his devastated father Andre telling this column via text message Kalyn had the blessing of the entire family to return home to Newcastle to take on the Sea Eagles.
"My 22-year-old niece was like a daughter to me and a sister to KP," he said. "It was paramount KP wanted to play tomorrow to honour his cousin and to acknowledge the Knights' sincerity in allowing him to come over. The whole family is proud of him returning and know he will do himself and his cousin proud."
Knights centre Jesse Ramien loves the new life-style and the fact that getting out of Sydney and living back on the Central Coast fulltime allows him to spend much more time with his young daughter LaSharn.
But it has to be said that after four rounds, the move to Newcastle is not doing a whole lot to enhance his State of Origin aspirations this season.
Tom Trbojevic's long-term injury and doubts about the attitude and fitness of James Roberts has potentially left the door open for someone like Ramien to burst into Blues calculations.
But through no fault of his own, his impact to date for the Knights has been limited to an outstanding individual try against Canberra but not much else simply because he hasn't seen enough of the footy.
With Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga operating primarily on the left, it may well be up to Mason Lino to ensure Ramien's right edge is fed some quality ball, starting with the Manly clash today.
Long road ends
It's been 329 days since Jacob Saifiti last laced on the boots so no-one will be more nervous than the Knights prop today at McDonald Jones Stadium when he is due to make his return from injury in NSW Cup.
Saifiti hasn't played since busting his shoulder badly against the Gold Coast Titans on May 19 last year. He needed two shoulder operations to fully repair the damage but had fully recovered from the surgeries and was training the house down in the pre-season before his ill-fated night out at a Hamilton pub on December 2 left him with a badly broken leg.
The incident cost him a $25,000 fine from the club and more than four months in rehab but he is finally on the comeback trail and ready to make up for lost time.
Saifiti has plenty of ground to make up though on his twin Daniel, who has gone to another level over the past 12 months and is high on the club's retention list right now behind only Kalyn Ponga and Jesse Ramien.
How many businesses, let alone sporting organisations, have managed to turn their fortunes around by the tune of $3.5 million in the space of 12 months?
The Knights lost $4.6 million in their final year under the control of the NRL before ownership was handed to Wests Group for the princely sum of $1 and a centre of excellence commitment.
Prior to that, the NRL had wanted $20 million for the franchise when they put it on the market a few years back before floating the ridiculous idea of relocating the Knights to Ipswich after they had no takers.
In the end, with all other avenues exhausted, Wests strategically came to the rescue and took ownership.
A year later and aided by an increased grant and the duplication of senior executive positions between Wests and the football club, the Knights made a profit of $1,099,000. Only Brisbane and Souths performed better.
Snowden advised to hang 'em up
Three years after back and neck injuries forced him into medical retirement from the Knights and the NRL, it appears Kade Snowden's playing career may finally be over.
The former Kangaroos prop was all set to make his debut for Central Newcastle in the Real NRL tomorrow but won't take the field after being advised to hang up the boots by medical specialists.
On the advice of Knights doctors Peter McGeoch and Neil Halpin, Snowden had scans taken last week and he was given the bad news at the Knights-Dragons game at McDonald Jones Stadium last Sunday.
"Kade wants to keep playing but there are some issues there with his vertebrae and spinal cord that he needs to think long and hard about,"Central coach Phil Williams told us.
"It's about Kade's health, he's got a young family and he has to look after himself and from our point of view, that has to come before anything else. He has a long, life in front of him."
Williams said the advice had hit Snowden very hard.
According to the coach, he could not have been any more impressive during the pre-season after agreeing to terms with Central late last year after a stint in the Hunter and Newcastle second division competition.
"He's been outstanding with what he has done for the young blokes here at the club in the off-season and I can't speak highly enough of him," Williams said.
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"He's been a real breath of fresh air and was a real benchmark as far as setting a great example goes at training all the way through.
"At the end of the day, his health is more important than anything else but it's disappointing given all the hard work he has done to get to this point."
Can the Knights add to their tally of four premiership wins in the NSWRL Harold Matthews Cup competition?
The Knights have just clinched the minor premiership in the Under 16's competition with just one loss to South Sydney and now meet fourth-placed Bulldogs at Blacktown today in their first finals match.
We're hearing Fijian hooker Noah Nailagoliva, backrower Max Bradbury, prop Noah Reed and halfback Jonah Pezet are the keys for the Knights.