Kalyn Ponga under fire as $1.4 million detail comes to light

The Newcastle Knights marquee star has been taken to task over his response to last year's toilet cubicle controversy.

Phil Rothfield has taken Kalyn Ponga to task over the toilet cubicle controversy from last season. Pic: Getty/Fox Sports
Phil Rothfield has taken Kalyn Ponga to task over the toilet cubicle controversy from last season. Pic: Getty/Fox Sports

Kalyn Ponga has been taken to task over last year's toilet cubicle controversy after fronting a press conference on Monday to speak about the incident publicly for the first time. The Newcastle captain fronted media on Monday for the first time since being captured walking out of a pub toilet cubicle with Knights teammate Kurt Mann last August.

Both players were out on the sidelines with head injuries at the time and were seen leaving a cubicle together at a pub in Newcastle with drinks in their hands. Ponga said he fell sick after something he ate and that Mann was simply coming to his aid as a friend. The Newcastle skipper's dad Andre revealed at the time that the pair had been celebrating Ponga's purchase of a house.

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Ponga and Mann were both cleared by an NRL integrity unit investigation and drug test, but questions lingered over Ponga's drinking while sitting out the end of the season with concussions. The Daily Telegraph’s Phil 'Buzz' Rothfield is among those to question why Ponga was drinking alcohol at all and why it took him six months to address the saga.

“Kalyn Ponga was out with the repercussions of concussion and any doctor will tell you... if you are suffering from concussion or repeated concussions you are supposed to have three to six months off alcohol,” Rothfield said on the Big Sports Breakfast. “Ponga last year, bought a new house in Newcastle, grabbed Kurt Mann and spent the afternoon at the pub while their team was being flogged interstate.

On Monday, Ponga admitted he erred in going out while sitting out the final seven rounds, but was adamant he was not aware of studies that indicate alcohol can slow recovery from concussions. "I didn't know the affects alcohol could have on concussions," Ponga said on Monday.

"Obviously it's not great for concussions. I have learned a lot from that time. But at that point of time, no (I wasn't aware). Concussions aren't a foreign part of the game, but there is so much stuff people don't know.

"I look back on that time, and they do have an affect on you. There have been a lot of lessons learned, and that is one of them." The pair's pub visit came on the same night Newcastle were being beaten 28-10 by Brisbane in Queensland, again calling into question Ponga's role as club captain.

Kalyn Ponga on Monday (pictured right) broke his six-month silence over the toilet cubicle incident. (Images: Supplied/Twitter)
Kalyn Ponga on Monday (pictured right) broke his six-month silence over the toilet cubicle incident. (Images: Supplied/Twitter)

Kalyn Ponga set to earn $1.4 million-per-season

Ponga is set to become one of the NRL's highest earners this year, with a ratchet clause in his contract - in line with the increased salary cap for the 17 teams - seeing the Maroons superstar's salary rise to a reported $1.4 million-per-season. Rothfield said that as the marquee man and captain of his club - as well as being one of the biggest names in the sport - it was important for Ponga to show remorse over an incident that brought so many negative headlines to the sport.

“They were both sprung on a video that went on social media leaving a toilet cubicle, it was a really bad look for the club, there was suggestions they swept it under the carpet," Rothfield added. “The NRL Integrity Unit let it go, now he’s on a contract this is worth $1.4 million this year, obviously the ratchet clause comes into his contract with the new salary cap.

“This guy is a potential champion of the game... to his credit, I am having a crack at him for not being professional on that day on the booze, but they say he’s the best trainer at the club, not just the best player...

“Show a little bit of remorse, I don’t like the fact that he’s been hidden away for the last six months.”

The 25-year-old admitted on Monday he could sense fan frustration, and that he had spent the off-season reflecting on his leadership responsibilities. "I shouldn't have been out or anything like that in the first place," Ponga said.

"I do support the boys and they know that. They know how much I support them at all times. I was in the wrong there. "(I have learned) lots of lessons. A lot of self reflecting.

"Even now, it is probably one of the most pivotal moments of my life. I have put things in place now that will help me be a better person and hopefully a better leader as well."

Ponga could make his return from concussions as soon as Friday night in the pre-season trial against Parramatta, having also overcome a calf injury. Any game time would be crucial for the Knights and his combination with new halfback Jackson Hastings, as Ponga prepares to move to five-eighth this season.

It is the Queensland State of Origin star's second shift to the halves from fullback, after a similar move failed in 2019. "I just wanted the change," Ponga said. "It is going to give me the opportunity to grow as a player. I want to be involved in more moments throughout a game. Being in that position will do that for me."

with AAP

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