Kalyn Ponga (FLB/FV8, $614,300) is to me what TPJ is to Catfish or Lolo is to JT. It’s a blatant and shameless man-crush, so everything you read here may be flavoured a little too sweetly for most punters’ tastes. In saying that, I will, for the sake of this article, attempt to take off my Newcastle cap, and don the more sensible unbiased writers’ hat. Full disclosure, it may still slightly tinged blue and red.
2018: Games played: 20, MPG: 76.5, PPM: 0.86, Average: 65.7
2017: Games played: 7, MPG: 75.2, PPM: 0.7, Average: 52.6
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Ponga has been one of the most hyped young rugby league players of all time in his early career. He had 6 clubs (across 3 different codes) vying for his signature before he committed to rugby league. He was selected to numerous representative squads in his junior years (QAS U20’s Origin, both the Junior Kangaroo and Junior Kiwi teams) and was named fullback in the 2016 NYC Team of the Year. Then to close out the year, he made his NRL debut in the Cowboys finals campaign and signed a $3M Knights contract.
2017 came and went. Ponga played 7 club games, filling in for injuries between wing and fullback. It was just a sample of this talented kid but had me excited for the 2018 season. Heading into that season, I wrote this in his POI:
“Now it would be ridiculous of me to suggest that he will be just as successful in the Hunter as he was with the Grand Finalists, although he has the potential to one day be considered in the elite. But will his SC breakout be this year?”
I had also conservatively predicted he would average around 57 PPG. Boy, did I undershoot the mark in that write-up. Starting at $420k, Ponga absolutely blitzed the NRL in 2018. He started the season by scoring a try in the 3rd minute of the Knights first game. He finished that golden point win over Manly with 81 SuperCoach points, then backed up a week later for another 93 points against Canberra.
Ponga went from strength-to-strength as the year progressed, picking up MOTM accolades almost every week and then being selected to represent Queensland in the 2018 Origin series in game 2. He featured from the bench but came on to produce one of the most impressive Origin debuts of all time. Finally, a 20-year-old kid in his first full year of the NRL almost claimed the Dally M. Despite missing the three games during the year and the last game of the season, Ponga led the count heading into the final round, before RTS’ own MOTM performance stole him the win.
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Below is what we wrote about Ponga in this year’s Mega Guide to provide you with a flavour of the content included:
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On the SuperCoach front, Ponga averaged 65.7 SuperCoach points across 20 games, including just one ton and two injury-affected scores of 30 (due to an early HIA) and 5 (as my captain!). You can’t really blame the HIA for the low score because he passed it and returned, but it did cost him 14 minutes. The other game though was just bad luck, when he hurt his hammy in an awkward tackle in the 14th minute of the game. It not only robbed him of 65 minutes against the Bulldogs, and robbed me of a huge captain score, but it kept him out an extra three weeks as he recovered. I’m not usually one to discredit those types of games but if you only factor in Ponga’s healthy games, he averaged 71 PPG. He even had 51 points in the Origin appearance at right around 1 PPM.
season, there have been some (real and rumoured) changes in the Hunter. First of all, the Knights front line is the best it’s been in years, decades even, with David Klemmer, Tim Glasby and James Gavet joining the youngsters. They’ll provide a much better platform to work behind than the one the playmakers had in 2018.
Secondly, Ponga is being talked up as a new 5/8 for the club and with that, he has been gifted the DPP eligibility that will mean we can fit all three of Ponga, Teddy and Turbo in the one team. It’s like SuperCoach Christmas.
There’s been an extremely limited sample of one game and 42 points to base expectations from. Ponga played in the #6 in the Knights Round 23 match against Penrith, his last game of the season before undergoing ankle surgery. So, it’s hard to say whether he was a failure at the position or not. He’s switching positions with Connor Watson, who averaged 64.7 PPG in his games at 5/8 (excluding his 5-point injury game in round 3). Is Ponga any worse than Watson as a ballplayer? And will he be able to stand up to the constant pressure of tackling in the front line all game and still produce the offensive magic? (29 tackles in Origin would suggest he can).
Ponga will also regain his goal-kicking role in 2019, adding another string to his bow that he didn’t have at the back-end of the season. With an improved team, I would be expecting to see improved results and more scoring from Newcastle this year, meaning more goal kicks for Ponga.
There are a few unknowns with the move, but I’m of the (unbiased) opinion that he has enough talent to at least hold his average from last year, if not improve on it. What are your thoughts?
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