KNIGHTS coach Nathan Brown will consider switching Connor Watson to fullback and Kalyn Ponga to five-eighth next season on a permanent basis, in a move he believes could bring out the best in both players.
Ponga was a revelation in his debut campaign with the Knights, playing 20 games wearing the No.1 jersey.
But in his last appearance of the year before succumbing to an ankle injury, he deputised as pivot and starred in one of Newcastle’s best wins, 14-6 at Penrith.
He also defended in the front line in his Origin debut for Queensland and handled the workload with ease.
Watson, meanwhile, was restricted to 15 games by injuries and was able to show only glimpses of his class.
Both players are recovering from off-season surgery and Brown will weigh up the merits of a positional swap once they are fit to resume full training.
“The two players, we’ve got a lot of confidence in them, but do they stand at six or one?” Brown said on Monday, after day one of Newcastle’s 2019 pre-season campaign.
“We’ll decide that over the pre-season, and they need to play a part in the decision making. It’s their careers.”
Brown said Watson “probably played his best football at fullback” during his two seasons and 38 games with the Roosters.
“His combination with Mitch [Pearce] obviously works quite well, and Connor and Kalyn being best mates, I’m sure they’ll develop a good combination when they get on the field together,” he said.
Brown said there would be pros and cons in moving Ponga from fullback, where he was highly reliable under the high ball and was a regular threat on kick-returns – best evidenced by his spectacular runaway try against the Gold Coast in round 11.
“Getting him the ball and giving him the opportunity to play when he wants the ball is great for him,” Brown said.
“At fullback, they do cover a lot of ground in defence. It’s probably the most demanding position.
“They can targeted a lot with kicks. Sides can give them a good thumping if they want to.
“But in the front line, you have to do more defence. There would be positives for his offence, but the key for us is to let Kalyn play the way he plays, whether he’s at five-eighth or one.”
Ponga (ankle), Watson (groin), Slade Griffin (knee), Nathan Ross (groin) and Danny Levi (back) were on light duties after off-season surgery, along with centre Tautau Moga, who underwent a knee reconstruction early last season.
Newcastle’s high-profile recruits – Tim Glasby, Jesse Ramien and Edrick Lee – are still at least two weeks away from joining their new teammates.
But fellow new signings Mason Lino (Warriors) and Zac Woolford (Canterbury) were on deck for Monday’s fitness and strength testing.
Brown said “ideally” he would have his roster locked in by now but was hopeful Newcastle’s patience would pay dividends.