Retired legend Johnathan Thurston has questioned the Knights’ decision to switch Kalyn Ponga to five-eighth next season, declaring it a waste because he faces being heavily targeted by rival teams.
The future NRL immortal, who will be in Newcastle next Friday night as part of his Australian tour for An Evening with Johnathan Thurston at NEX, says personal experience tells him Ponga will be far easier to get at if he is in the front line and not at fullback.
“I’m not a fan of it,” Thurston told us this week.
“I just think Kalyn is probably one of the best talents we have seen come through and I don’t think he needs the added pressure this early in his career.
“Playing him in the front line – I didn’t have the talent coming through that Kalyn has but I remember playing the Knights and Joey and Bedsy were just throwing backrowers at me all game.
“I was making 25-30 tackles a game and I just think playing him in the front line, that’s what teams will be doing and while he could handle it, I just think it will be a waste. It will take away what he could produce at the back. That’s just my opinion.”
Thurston wouldn’t be drawn on whether Ponga’s move to five-eighth will affect his Queensland Origin fullback selection chances.
“I haven’t spoken to Kevvy [coach Walters] about Origin but with Billy [Slater] retired and I’m not sure what Darius [Boyd] is doing with the rep stuff, I can’t see a fullback out there that will be more effective than Kalyn,” he said.
Thurston’s farewell tour, which will conclude on Monday week in Gympie after shows next week in Gladstone, Newcastle, Mackay and Brisbane, has been a huge hit around the country.
A number of shows have been sold out with more than 400 people attending his event in Perth.
Newcastle’s Frank Barrett is MC’ing all his shows, which delve into all aspects of Thurston’s career and private life.
“There’ll be plenty of laughs and tears. It’s Johnathan warts and all – it really is a fantastic show,” Barrett said.
One of the stories Thurston is sure to tell is about the day he burst into tears in a quiet corner of the dressing room in Newcastle back in 2006.
It was after a game for the Cowboys against the Knights when built-up emotions from all the pressure and media hype in the lead up to his head-to-head battle with Andrew Johns suddenly exploded.
We have been told David Klemmer’s $850,000 a season contract with the Knights for the next five years does not contain any third party deals.
All his money will come straight out of the salary cap with Knights officials keen to direct any potential third party sponsors in the future Kalyn Ponga’s way for good reason.
Ponga still has three years to run on his current deal but it is only a matter of time before he becomes the club’s highest paid player.
If the Knights hope to secure the brilliant youngster for a longer term and keep rival clubs at bay, he will more than likely need to be significantly upgraded in 2020 and 2021 and third parties are likely to play a crucial role in that.
Knights CEO Phil Gardner says the club is already looking at what the roster may look like in 2021-22.
With two players left to sign to bring squad numbers up to the required 30 by June 30 next year, the Knights have around $700,000 left in the cap for 2019.
Around $300,000 of that has been ear-marked for Dragons utility Kurt Mann, when or if he becomes available, but the club is planning to keep a fair whack of what is left up their sleeve.
We’re still scratching our heads at why young Knights halfback Phoenix Crossland is not over in England with the Australian Schoolboys squad but we reckon what he is doing instead will benefit his career far more.
Crossland, who has just earned himself a development contract with the club, has been training with the fulltime squad with Mitchell Pearce singling him out for big praise during the week.
While serial offender John Hopoate copped some stick from the media after the big Legends of League tournament in Gosford a few weeks back for re-enacting his grubby finger-poking exploits from his playing days for Manly, evergreen former Knight Daniel Abraham could see the lighter side.
Abes was on the receiving end of the Hopoate “special” during the Knights clash with the Eagles and said while he got an uncomfortable shock at the time, he actually took it as a compliment.
“Hoppa had 16 other backsides he could have poked but he chose mine,” he laughed.
Still on Abraham, if he can get his injured knee right, he wants to go around for another season with the Macquarie Scorps despite turning 38 in March. He is also considering doing some coaching at the club.
Another former Newcastle Knight Chanel Mata’utia won’t be enjoying too much Christmas cheer this festive season if new Cessnock coach Todd Edwards has anything to do with it.
After a hit-and-miss first season for Cessnock this year, Mata’utia has re-signed with the Goannas for 2019 but we are hearing his weight has ballooned out to 115 kgs and he is going to need to lose at least 10 kgs if he is to get a look in.
Still on the Goannas, they have signed Knights lower graders Hayden Loughrey and Tevita Alifa along with Sydney Roosters prop Zane Tetevano’s younger brother Isaiah from Wyong.
A “Super Saturday” Newcastle Rugby League “Magic Round” at No 2 Sportsground to open the 2019 season is on the back-burner after clubs rejected the idea due to financial reasons.
Pinching a concept from the NRL’s play book, Real NRL officials wanted to kick off the competition next April with all four games played at the same venue on the same day.
The opening round would have featured a grandfinal re-match between Souths and Lakes, a clash between 2017 grandfinalists Macquarie and Wests, a Coalfields derby between Kurri and Cessnock and a Maitland-Central showdown.
A great idea that wont see the light of day.
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