Newcastle icon Matty Johns has expressed his concerns around Kalyn Ponga, after the latest concussion injury suffered by the Knights captain on Sunday. Ponga lasted just 90 seconds before being taken off the field in the dramatic 14-12 victory over the Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday.
Ponga copped a nasty blow to his head making an early tackle against the Tigers, before failing an HIA and being ruled out of the remainder of the contest. It's Ponga's fourth concussion in 10 months, and came in just his second game back in the NRL after he was sidelined at the back end of 2022 because of repeated head knocks.
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Unsurprisingly, Ponga's latest setback has left commentators and fans worried about his future in the sport, with Newcastle coach Adam O'Brien confirming he'll miss the round three match against the Dolphins. "We gave him the summer off, he had eight games off last season, he has some extended breaks," O'Brien said after the match.
"He obviously won't play (against the Dolphins) because we've got a five-day turnaround. He was cleared to play in the last two games last year and we chose to not play him."
While Johns would not speculate on Ponga's future in the sport out of concern for the mental wellbeing of the Knights skipper, he did suggest that it might be prudent of the Knights to shift the 24-year-old back to fullback, where he won't be required to defend in the frontline and make so many tackles in a game. Ponga makes three tackles per game on average at fullback, compared to 12 when he features at five-eighth.
"When you are a kid and your whole life you have defended in the front line, there is so much of defence that is intuition," Johns said on SEN. "You just know where to place your head, where to place your feet. How to drop, when to drive.
"It doesn't safeguard you from concussions ... but for (Ponga) this is a whole new kettle of fish. Yesterday the guy was going towards him with a bit of footwork and he got his head caught in an awkward position. That can happen to anyone.
"But if Kalyn is their most important player, which he is, then they have to make a decision on where he best sits in the side." The Fox League host says he has spoken about Ponga to his brother and rugby league Immortal Andrew Johns, who works as a halves coach at the Knights.
Newcastle have big call to make on Kalyn Ponga
Complicating matters in terms of a positional switch for Ponga is the fact that Lachlan Miller has impressed at fullback for the Knights, whose struggles in the halves were all too apparent last season. Tyson Gamble did fill in admirably for Ponga at five-eighth on Sunday, setting up two of the Knights' three tries against the Tigers. However, Matty Johns says O'Brien has a big decision to make when Ponga returns.
"These are a lot of really big decisions that sit in the lap of (coach) Adam O'Brien," Johns added. "The art of that defence, at the last second to get your footwork right and get your head on the right side, it is something that is learned over a long, long time."
One player who has also suffered his fair share of concussions through head knocks over recent seasons is rival Roosters half Luke Keary. The 31-year-old says while he understands that much of the commentary has inevitably shifted to Ponga's future in the sport, he says the Knights captain would be best served by avoiding the external noise and listening to his own body and the advice of experts.
"Everyone will want to have their opinion on it, and probably best for him to turn the TV off, put the phone down and go talk to the right people," Keary said. "Don't listen to everyone else. It happens in footy and when you get a few in a row it gets highlighted a bit more. I know the doctors will do the right thing for him, whatever that is."
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