Newcastle Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga is heading into the NRL finals having suffered a shoulder injury in round 26 and former players Gorden Tallis and Braith Anasta have questioned his fitness. Ponga went off against the Sharks two weeks ago clutching at his shoulder in a worrying sign for the home team.
He was rested for round 27 with an AC joint injury, but has been announced in the team to play the Canberra Raiders this week at home. Knights fans will be thrilled to have the most in-form fullback, with Reece Walsh, back in the team for the first elimination match the club will play at home since 2006.
However, NRL reporter Davie Riccio said Ponga will be carrying a painful injury into the must-win clash. “There is no doubt in the world he won’t be 100 per cent for this game. He will require pain killing injections, he’ll have strapping and padding on his shoulder,” Riccio said on NRL 360.
“Similar injuries this year were Brent Naden and Jeremiah Nanai, both missed three matches. Kalyn is certainly coming back quicker than what others have… he won’t be at 100 per cent.”
Tallis agreed and said he would be watching his first contact closely having been through the same injury during his playing career. “I’ll be watching him get up from the first collision. The (concussion) hurdle he jumped over at the beginning of the year, that’s one of the biggest hurdles in the game but watch the way he’s playing now," he said.
“The thing he’s got to do is make his first touch his best and go straight into collision, test it early and see where he’s at."
Kalyn Ponga to be targeted in Raiders clash
There is no doubt Ponga will be the target of some strong kick-chases this weekend as the Raiders look to target the fullback. Reporter Paul Crawley admitted the Raiders would 'rattle his cage' with bombs and kick pressure early.
Anasta admitted while he would be in pain, adrenalin and pain killers would help Ponga risk the injury in the first NRL finals match.
“The thing with the AC joint, I’ve had the same (injury) and mine still pops up,” Anasta said. “He’ll feel it for the rest of the season but you needle it, you don’t feel it much during the game. It’s terrible during the week and then you juice is up the next weekend and you go again."
Ponga isn't the only key Knights player to return for the must-win Raiders clash. Halfback Jackson Hastings will return after a few weeks out from an ankle injury, suffered during a hip-drop tackle, to strengthen the spine.
Coach Ricky Stuart will replace the suspended Sebastian Kris with James Schiller. The coach will stick with Jack Wighton in the centres, which could be his last game with the club, alongside Jarred Croker.
Matt Frawley will play with Jamal Fogarty in the halves.
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