WITHOUT wanting to plan Kalyn Ponga’s life away, I was chatting with an old mate who knows a thing or two about footy talent.
Old mate reckons a future Mitchell Pearce-Ponga combination would, in time, outstrip the best scrum-base combinations in memory: Peter Sterling and Brett Kenny, Allan Langer and Kevin Walters, Ricky Stuart and Laurie Daley, Nathan Cleary and James Maloney. Yes, even the Andrew and Matthew Johns phenomenon of the late 1990s. Big prediction.
Why? He explains in clipped detail: “Ponga is quicker, has better footwork, softer hands and sweeter timing than possibly all of them. He kicks, can tackle and we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Oh, and ‘JJ’ Pearce is no slouch either.”
Moving Ponga from fullback to five-eighth would leave his position as custodian vacant.
I reckon the No.1 role would suit someone like Connor Watson down to a tee.
As evidenced by Ponga’s line break in the 69th minute of Origin II last Sunday, he had nobody familiar or quick enough to go with him. Watson has the talent, motor and smarts to sniff out such opportunities early and be there, like a Robbie O’Davis. Throw in Danny Levi and Slade Griffin and you have one heck of a “spine”.
A top-four spine if ever there was one.
Nonetheless, we need the forwards and the outside backs to deliver in harmony with the string section, and that requires more work and a couple of strategic buys.
In terms of the speed men, it’s great news that Cronulla guns Jesse Ramien and Edrick Lee coming to the club. If we can also manage to jag Blake Ferguson to support Shaun Kenny-Dowall Cory Denniss and Sione Mata’utia, we’ll have big, experienced and fast outside backs. A few of whom score a try on average every second time they pull on a boot.
Against that, the future forwards need to deliver the muscle and the drive up-field, while denying the other mob the same.
In this regard, the recruitment speculation around former Australian front-rower (and more recently Craig Bellamy’s off-sider) Jason Ryles coming to (help) our defence is welcomed. Leaking 28 points a game is sub-par in anyone’s language, and something has to give.
Married to inaugural Knights coach Allan McMahon’s daughter, Ryles could find enormous satisfaction in doing a great job whipping our squad into shape. And if he does, referring back to old mate’s bold predictions, there are salad days ahead.
* WITH the Origin series wrapped up for 2018, it’s a chance for all New South Welshmen and women to show some humility and generosity to our Queenslander brethren.
“Bad luck people. Not good enough this year.”
That done, we look forward to July 11 and the showdown with the Queensland fans, as much as with the humbled Sunshine State players.
The Blues are chasing a 3-0 series win but still need to improve. No risk. Brad Fittler would have drummed into them as the dressing room cleared and the noise died down: “It ain’t over”.
As for the tormented, the manner of their improvement likely rests with how they can work a certain Novocastrian better into their game plan.
Something of a shock weapon with a roving commission, playing most of his 53 minutes near enough to the middle, Kalyn Ponga surprised, I suspect, even himself. He notched up almost 30 tackles on debut and nearly stole the tight match with a rare clean break at the death. Impressive stuff, which belies his Kalyn the Kid public persona. First Queenslander picked for game three.
He wasn’t the only Novocastrian to have an impact, of course. Congrats must be extended to coach Fittler’s support crew, which included Danny Buderus and Andrew Johns. In a contest where the little things matter, their guidance and quiet confidence around camp might just have been the difference.
Series won. Now let’s beat ’em on their own dung hill.
* CRITICISED by some, the enforced NRL bye round did create some space for a special weekend of representative footy. Kicking off with our women’s NSW team, the Blues triumphed over their Queensland counterparts in a bruising and desperately fought engagement at historic North Sydney Oval. The girls are off and running and it will never be the same again.
Swept along as we are, how long before women referees make their presence felt in the NRL?
Back to the lads, those diminutive PNG Kumuls were on average a foot shorter but managed to send their league-mad nation into a lather by belting the Bati bulldozers. Likewise, the Samoa v Tonga treat was a big event for connections down Campbelltown way. Turning into a “must-watch” event, this Test match had everything. It was, with all due respect, my match of the round.
* NOW back to business. The last two months of a long season can have a reinvigorating effect on players. They can smell the finish line.
In the lead, the Dragons, Storm, Rabbitohs, Panthers and Warriors might start to kick away from the field. The Tigers look like the smokeys, with Moses Mbye and Robbie Farah rejoining the fray. All of which is of little consequence to the Knights, right now.
With only 12 points in the vault, the other likely 16 points must come from these remaining 11 rounds, with two points guaranteed from next week’s bye. A win rate of 70 per cent against 42 per cent at the moment.
Dare I say, it’s mathematically possible. But it all starts on Saturday afternoon against the Bulldogs, minus Aaron Woods and Mbye, at McDonald Jones Stadium. Can the Knights win? They have to. Knights by 14.
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