SC Position: Fullback
SC Price: $419,900
Bye Round: 17
2017 Average: 52.6
2017 Games Played: 7
Current Ownership: 29%
Predicted Average: 57
Some genius already looked at this kid in the Knights Season Preview (shameless self-plug), but I’ll try to elaborate a bit further here. Ponga has had some of the game’s best judges singing his praise for years, and he’s only played a grand total of 9 NRL games (7 regular season and 2 finals).
He had always been a highly touted junior and when he officially committed to the North Queensland Cowboys before the 2014 season, they were just 1 of 6 clubs (across 3 different codes) that were vying for his signature. Then Kalyn burst onto the scene in 2016 in the Cowboys NYC team. That year he was selected to the QAS U20’s Origin squad, both the Junior Kangaroo and Junior Kiwi teams (playing for neither), and was named fullback in the NYC Team of the Year. He capped off the year by making his NRL debut in the finals series, playing 2 games on the wing for SC scores of 46 and 17.
Ponga then signed the $3M Knights contract at the end of that year, making him the richest teenager in NRL history. As a Newcastle fan, I remember thinking at the time “this kid’s played 2 games, he’d better be damn good”. Well, he is. You only have to watch his highlights from 2017 to see that he’s going to be a star. The Knights got a first-hand preview in round 8 when he scored 2 tries in a Man-of-the-Match performance.
As mentioned previously, a calf injury to Lachlan Coote opened the door for Ponga to get an extended run in first grade. He played 6 games in a row at fullback from rounds 3-9 where he scored 90 points vs Gold Coast and 87 in that Knights game. His floor in those games was 42. Ponga then returned to the top side in round 24, where he played on the wing vs the Sharks. He injured his shoulder in that game and consequently finished with a score of just 1 point. What concerns me here is that he still played in 46 minutes of the game. So it’s not like the low score was due to being taken off in the opening minutes. He just wasn’t involved. Hopefully, it’s simply because he was out on the wing and nothing more (if anyone remembers this game, please feel free to clarify).
That single-digit score helps us this year, as it dropped his yearly average from 61.2 to the 52.6 he ended up on, and on top of that, Ponga has been given a slight discount due to only playing the 7 games. He’s priced at an average of 47. So based on that alone, it’s like you’re getting RTS (60.1 average in 2017) for the price of Jarryd Hayne (47.4). So if you’re looking to save a bit of cash somewhere, he could be a solid alternative to the big 3 (Teddy, Turbo and Slater).
On a negative, the opening 6 weeks certainly don’t do the Knights any favours. They kick off the season against Manly and then face the Raiders, Roosters, Dragons, Broncos and Storm. It’s a draw that gets tougher as it goes along. The schedule opens up a bit after that though with the next 5 against the Tigers, Sea Eagles (again), Rabbits, Panthers and Titans. The problem here is that we just don’t know what this team is going to do. There’s no history there to say that they’ll win X number of games as it’s practically an entirely new squad.
Also, he’s not really a POD. His ownership at time of writing was just shy of 30%, meaning he was the 3rd most selected fullback behind only Tedesco and dual-cheapie teammate Connor Watson. He’s being picked more than Tom Trbojevic at the moment, which I actually found surprising.
Ponga sits in that dreaded mid-pricer range, but I think he’s one of the safer mid-pricers. He’s locked into the starting fullback position so there’s no worry about job security. He’s young, so he’ll continue to get better with experience. He plays through the first bye round so you don’t have to worry about him the same way you do with Teddy or Turbo (just in that instance). I know the Knights aren’t as good a team as the Cowboys, but they aren’t the easy beats they once were either. And again I’ll mention the Newcastle Herald article that says Ponga could be the Knights goal kicker. If he lands this gig, he could potentially add up to 10 point per game to his score (at a rough estimate).
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? What’s your thoughts?