Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga has admitted he was 'tired' of letting people down after a number of NRL setbacks, which resulted in his phenomenal end-of-year run that secured him a maiden Dally M award. Ponga stormed home late in the Dally M race to take the award in the last round of voting with 56 points, which resulted in devastation for Shaun Johnson finishing second on 55 points.
Ponga was sheepish on stage as he faced his peers after a sensational season, but admitted his motivation to turn his form around this year stemmed from a rather sad time. "It's a crazy feeling, I feel humbled and very lucky," Ponga said.
"I have a lot of people to thank - my family, the staff and my teammates. The way I played this year is impossible without your support and love and belief in me.
"I had an early-season holiday and when I was over there I decided I wanted to stop letting people down, and yeah, what a year."
Ponga's speech might have been short, but it carried a lot of weight with the phenomenally talented fullback sending a scare through the NRL when he went down against the Tigers in round 2. It marked the fourth concussion for Ponga in 10 months, which saw him travel to Canada to seek professional advice in a bid to save his career and his future.
Ponga missed five games, which had fearing he might never return to the game. But he returned in round 8 as the Knights looked to turn their season around and make what appeared to be a near-impossible charge to the finals.
But it wasn't until the Knights went on an unprecedented nine-game unbeaten streak that had the NRL world talking about the form of the fullback. Fans couldn't help but get dragged into the debate of who was the in-form fullback, Ponga or Reece Walsh.
And Ponga received the game's top individual honour on Wednesday night having finished one of the toughest seasons of his career on a high. Fans were thrilled for Ponga with so many fearing he would never play NRL again after his scary concussion drama in 2023.
People had him finished. The retirement talk….then the Guts. Resilience. Talent. Class….Incredible achievement Kalyn Ponga #DallyM
— Damian Hedges (@dhedges75) September 27, 2023
To come back and have the season he did after suffering a 4th concussion in 10 months & missing 5 weeks was incredible. A pleasure to watch Kalyn Ponga go to work this year, and a deserved Dally M winner. May he never be moved from fullback again!
— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) September 27, 2023
SJ is a legit king and I would have been happy if he won it; but how anyone can be salty about KP taking out the #DallyM is beyond me! The man has overcome so much and came back to give masterclass after masterclass. #NRL
— Rach B (@Raychi85) September 27, 2023
What an effort from Kalyn Ponga to win the Dally M Medal given what he went through at the start of the year and given he missed a number of games then as well. #NRL
— Andrew Lucas (@LucasLowdown9) September 27, 2023
At the start of the season, he was in Vancouver, looking for answers, trying to prolong his career and now he’s at the podium accepting the #DallyM.
Unreal story. Well done Kalyn Ponga!
— Nathan Brookes (@BrookesyNat) September 27, 2023
Kalyn Ponga 'envious' of grand final players
Ponga was all class to the Broncos and Penrith players who are competing for the premiership this week. To finish his speech, Ponga congratulated those who were playing this weekend and admitted he was frustrated not to be a part of the spectacle. 'Yeah, what a year. To the boys who are playing this weekend, I'm envious of you and all the best. Thank you everyone."
Knights fullback Tamika Upton won the NRLW Dally M award to mark a historic night for the club. "This is definitely not an individual award," Upton said.
"I think from the moment I stepped foot (in Newcastle), I've been supported by everyone involved and that spreads to my teammates.
"For my family and friends back home who have always supported me, I can feel the love so thank you."
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