The Newcastle Knights are taking unprecedented steps to get talismanic captain Kalyn Ponga right, with the five-eighth departing for Canada on Friday to seek specialist treatment after his latest concussion. Ponga was concussed in Newcastle's clash with the Tigers in round two - his fourth head knock in less than 12 months.
The Knights co-captain's immediate playing future has been in serious doubt since his latest knock, but the club announced on Friday that they'll provide a return-to-play timeline once he returns from Canada. The Knights have been consulting with Professor Chris Levi of the University of Newcastle and Hunter Medical Research Institute.
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On Friday, the club shared the most significant update on his condition in the last two weeks, revealing he would fly to Canada on Friday with the club's chief medical officer Dr Jin Lee to seek specialist treatment. The decision came following discussions with Professor Levi.
Ponga will undergo testing in Vancouver using a device that can measure brain activity, which is not yet available in Australia. Only after the Knights receive the results of the tests will the club begin considering when Ponga might make his return to the field - if he can at all.
"Management of concussion is a complex issue for everyone involved. We see this as an opportunity to gather additional information to assist Kalyn in his recovery," Knights head of football Peter Parr said in a statement on Friday.
"Our broader aim, under the guidance of Professor Levi, is to develop a model of care that will advance our capacity in supporting players with concussion. Kalyn remains in good spirits and wishes to thank everyone who has enquired about his health."
NRL fans react to major Kalyn Ponga update
Ponga's trip to Canada follows similar moves made by rival fullbacks Tom Trbojevic, Latrell Mitchell and Ryan Papenhuyzen in the past 12 months. All three made trips to the United States to work with Philadelphia-based specialist Bill Knowles on different leg issues.
NRL fans took to social media to commend the Knights and Ponga for taking steps to get him back to full health. Some said it was great to see, while others were left saddened that Ponga is in this position in the first place.
Damn the dudes career is up in the air. Sad to see because he has been so good especially for Qld
— Brad (@bitey26) March 23, 2023
Great to see he is getting world-class treatment and wish him all the best in his recovery. Hopefully we see him again soon.
— Braden (@Bradenjbrady) March 23, 2023
Good luck KP! All the best with your recovery and it's great to see people around you taking your long term health seriously.
— Parko (@Parko23) March 24, 2023
Good on them for taking the most care they can, and if this works maybe the Knights would revolutionise concussions in the NRL being the first team to try this. Hope he takes it easy the Knights can wait for its captain, he needs to rest and figure things out, hope he goes good.
— Mythix3k (@Mythix3k) March 23, 2023
It’s hard to come back from 4 concussions in 10 mths. I hope he can make a recovery to play again but, realistically I believe Ponga’s NRL career is over.
— Hector Samuels🇦🇺🇮🇹🇺🇸 (@HS19661966) March 24, 2023
Ponga's latest head knock appeared to act as the catalyst for the NRL to introduce a mandatory 11-day stand-down period for any player who has suffered a concussion. Under new protocols, any player who has been concussed will be unable to play again for a minimum of 11 days - except for in extraordinary circumstances.
Ponga missed the final six weeks of last season while recovering from concussion. This time around the Knights have been reluctant to put a timeline on his comeback, with head-injury management remaining a hot topic in the NRL.
A number of prominent commentators have questioned the wisdom of Newcastle's decision to switch Ponga from fullback to five-eighth this year, given it means he has to defend in the front line and make more tackles. "The people who coach him and work with him every day probably know best what position he should be playing. I don't like to second-guess coaches for that reason," Phil Gould said.
"I just don't understand the obsession these days with trying to move class fullbacks into the five-eighth position. Maybe because they can go and buy another fullback but they can't go and buy another five-eighth. I just don't know that's the right position for him at the moment."
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