Mitchell Pearce knows better than anyone the attacking potential that comes with Kalyn Ponga’s shift into the halves for the first time against Penrith at Pepper Stadium on Saturday.
And he says that despite a disrupted season which has limited their time to really develop a combination, he has no doubts they will “connect well” as playmakers after just a couple of training sessions together this week.
But the Knights halfback is also aware his side’s chances of causing an upset won’t rest on the success or otherwise of their much-anticipated partnership.
It will largely come down to whether they actually get an opportunity to really show us what they can do.
After a promising start to the game against the Warriors last weekend, the Knights forward pack was steam-rolled.
It left Pearce, Ponga and co playing off the back foot without a lot of energy coming from up front when they had the footy.
That has prompted coach Nathan Brown to promote Josh King and Luke Yates to the bench for the Panthers clash at the expense of Chris Heighington and JJ Felise.
Pearce hinted, prior to yesterday’s captain’s run, at the challenge awaiting his forwards against the Panthers.
“We leaked a lot of metres in defence against the Warriors which takes the juice out of your attack as well and we were struggling to get on the front foot with a bit of a power game,” he said.
“It starts up front and if you win the battle up the front, it gives you the opportunity to play on the front foot.”
On Ponga, Pearce has nothing but praise, saying he won’t have a problem handling the five-eighth role.
“I’ve got no doubt we’ll connect well,” he said.
“There are some types of fullbacks in the game that are runners and players that could never play six. He’s a player that could play all levels at six.”
As for where he plays in the future, Pearce said:
“Out of respect to Kalyn and where he is at and the hot property he is, the club will let him play where he wants at the moment.”
The Panthers will also feature a new-look halves with captain James Maloney out until the finals series with a knee injury.
But Pearce is cautious about whether the Knights can take too much comfort out of the fact he won’t be there.
“We’ve got to take the opportunity this week when he is out but they obviously have a young half [Tyrone May] who last time, was their best player so we are not taking them lightly by any means,” Pearce said.
Pearce claims there is no added motivation for him in coming up against Nathan Cleary, the player who took his NSW Origin halfback jumper this season.
“I’m always motivated. I haven’t played many games this year and I’m enjoying every chance of getting out there,”he said.
“It will be great to come up against a quality player in Nathan Cleary.”
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