TEENAGE dynamo Kalyn Ponga says he will welcome the pressure of goalkicking if Knights coach Nathan Brown offers him the job.
Newcastle are expected to start the season with a new sharpshooter after the departure of Trent Hodkinson to Cronulla, combined with the likelihood that Brock Lamb will start 2018 in NSW Cup.
Ponga was given first crack at the role in last week’s 26-22 trial win against defending premiers Melbourne Storm, landing two goals from three attempts.
The 19-year-old, who has appeared in only nine NRL games, is set to become the youngest and most inexperienced kicker in the NRL if, as expected, Brown entrusts him.
But Ponga kicked regularly during his time in North Queensland’s under-20s and throughout his junior career and said he had always enjoyed the challenge.
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He felt his kicking had improved since joining the Knights, thanks largely to the mentoring of Newcastle’s specialist kicking coach, Damien Hill.
“Hilly’s been great, because until now I’ve never really had a kicking coach,” Ponga told the Newcastle Herald.
“He hasn’t changed much. Just tweaked a couple of little things, which has been good.”
Asked how he would feel if he was facing a sideline conversion to win a game, the left-footer replied: “I’d be excited. It would be awesome.
“I don’t think I’d be nervous. I’d be confident and if Browny wants me to do that role, I’d love to.”
Brown told the Herald last month he would have no qualms about asking a novice to kick for goal, saying: “They all have to start somewhere.”
Brown confirmed that Ponga was likely to start the season as Newcastle’s kicker and backed him to acquit himself admirably.
“He’s a pretty level-headed young kid and handles himself very well,” Brown said.
“Obviously he’s had a fair bit more experience than most kids his age. I don’t think the pressure side of it is going to worry him. He seems to take most things in his stride pretty well.
“Just as long as he can kick pretty consistently, we’ll be more than happy with that.”
Hill told the Herald last month that Ponga “stands out”, as a natural kicker, adding that the explosive fullback has “got a great strike on him” and was “without a doubt” capable of handling the job at NRL level.
Ponga said he was enjoying the “healthy competition” among Hill’s training group.
“We’re all working on our kicking at training, and the other boys are all looking pretty sharp,” he said.
“Whoever gets that role, I’m sure will be honoured to have the responsibility.”
Ponga marked his first game in Newcastle’s colours with a try in the win against Melbourne, after winning the race to a Mitchell Pearce kick.
“It was an opportunity for us to play together and put into practice all the things that we’ve been working on throughout the pre-season,” he said.
“I’d say the general feeling is that overall we’re pretty happy with it.”
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