Kalyn Ponga truth called out by NRL teammates as Knights surge without injured captain

Newcastle have won all four games they've played since losing their gun fullback.

Tyson Frizell and Jackson Hastings have revealed how Kalyn Ponga's injury has actually been a blessing in disguise for the Newcastle Knights amid their stunning resurgence. Ponga went down with a foot injury in round seven and will miss the better part of three months of football.

It looked like the long-term injury would spell disaster for the Knights, with fears their season would spiral out of control without their superstar fullback. Many had predicted Newcastle to get the wooden spoon, but Adam O'Brien's side have now won four-straight games without Ponga after Saturday's 28-24 win over the Gold Coast Titans.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Frizell revealed how the Knights had become too reliant on Ponga and the injury had actually forced them to click into gear. Ponga transformed the Knights into an attacking powerhouse in 2023, leading them to an unlikely finals berth on the way to claiming the Dally M Medal.

Kalyn Ponga and Newcastle Knights teammates.
The Newcastle Knights have won three games in a row without Kalyn Ponga. Image: Getty

But this year, the Knights have rediscovered their grit and won all four games since losing their co-captain, conceding fewer points across that span than triple-reigning premiers Penrith. Frizell reckons an over-reliance on Ponga may have contributed to the Knights' 2-4 start to the season.

"We were guilty of playing a little bit of 'Kalyn Ball' and relying on him a bit too much to create points," the second-rower told AAP. "We still haven't been great with our attack, but we've been able to grind away our wins the past few weeks. Hopefully we continue to build and then by the time he comes back, he can slot right in and add that extra X-factor that we know he can bring."


Hastings revealed how the team has simplified their game plan since losing Ponga. "Losing Kalyn, we stripped it back a little bit," he told AAP.

"We didn't change who we were but we stripped it back a little bit and really focused on what we're good at and that is defending, kicking to corners and making it hard for opposition teams. Certainly high completions, kicking long and defending well, we've got a coach who doesn't care if we win 2-0. The grittier the better for him."

David Armstrong.
David Armstrong (L) has taken his opportunity with Kalyn Ponga out injured.

Ponga's injury has opened the door for David Armstrong to take centre stage as the team's new fullback, and he has taken to opportunity with both hands. He has now scored five tries in his first four NRL games - including a hat-trick against the Titans - and averaged over 170 running metres per game.

Hastings said Armstrong was an example of the Knights making the best of their bad injury situation. "I just think a lot of boys are getting to express themselves probably a little bit more than what they would if Kalyn was in the side," he said.

"Obviously KP is such a huge part of what we do, he's our captain, marquee man and arguably one of, if not the, best players in the competition. When you lose someone like that, it obviously hurts but everyone get a chance to step up. We've got a chance to set ourselves up for the rest of the year whilst (Ponga) is out."

with AAP