A WORRYING series of head knocks have finally taken a toll on Newcastle Knights skipper Kalyn Ponga, who has been stood down from Friday's clash with Gold Coast Titans at McDonald Jones Stadium.
The Queensland fullback reportedly suffered a category-one concussion during Origin II on Sunday night.
He was tackled by Nathan Cleary with 10 minutes to play in NSW's landslide 44-12 triumph at Perth's Optus Stadium and was replaced almost immediately.
Cleary was placed on report for high contact but escaped without charge.
"He's obviously copped a bit of a shot there to the head when he was hitting the ground," Queensland coach Billy Slater said after Sunday's defeat. "He staggered on the field so he came straight off. We made sure he came straight off and made sure he was OK ... in the sheds he seems fine, but the doctors will assess him."
It was Ponga's second concussion in the space of a fortnight, and the fourth time this season he has required a head-injury assessment.
He was knocked senseless and replaced early in Newcastle's 42-6 loss to Penrith on June 12 after making a desperate attempt to stop rampaging back-rower Viliame Kikau from scoring a try. On that occasion, he was unable to return to the field but backed up a week later in the 20-18 loss to the Raiders in Canberra.
He also required HIAs during Newcastle's losses to Manly on April 7 and Parramatta on April 24, but on both occasions was able to play on. The 24-year-old has undergone HIAs on at least 10 occasions over the past four seasons, but this is the first time he has not been cleared to play in Newcastle's next match.
According to the Knights' website: "Category-one protocols require Ponga to sit out for a seven-day period, meaning he will be unavailable for the match against the Titans."
The NRL, however, said that players who have received a category-one diagnosis on the field, effectively ruling them out of that particular game, have been able to return within seven days on occasions this year.
But in those instances, the players have been been cleared after passing tests conducted by an independent specialist.
"Clearly if someone has multiple diagnosed concussions, they would take a more cautious approach," an NRL spokesman said.
Given that Ponga will sit out Friday's match, he won't have another chance to prove his fitness before the Origin series decider at Suncorp Stadium on July 13.
That will give him 17 days between games to recover.
Ponga's absence leaves Knights coach Adam O'Brien with a selection headache before the clash with the last-placed Titans.
The leading candidate to replace Ponga would appear to be Tex Hoy.
Alternatively, the coach could switch Anthony Milford to fullback and reunite Adam Clune and Jake Clifford in the halves.
The Knights need a win on Friday to keep their miniscule finals hopes alive.
They hope to be bolstered by the return from injury of prop Daniel Saifiti and centre Bradman Best, who have been sidelined with knee and elbow injuries respectively.
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