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Matty Johns makes eye-opening call amid NRL debate around Newcastle halves

The Newcastle Knights great has urged his former team to pick Jack Cogger over Tyson Gamble.

Matty Johns has urged the Newcastle Knights to pick returning playmaker Jack Cogger in the halves instead of Tyson Gamble for their round one clash against Canberra. With the NRL's historic Las Vegas season-opener in the rear-view mirror, attention has turned to the team list announcements for the remaining round-one games on Tuesday.

Shaping up as arguably the most uncertain and interesting selection dilemma is that of who will partner Jackson Hastings in the halves at the Knights. Cogger signed a three-year deal with Newcastle last August before Hastings and Gamble played a major role in the Knights' late-season run that saw them play finals footy.

Pictured L-R: Matty Johns, Jack Cogger, Tyson Gamble
Matty Johns has urged the Newcastle Knights to pick Jack Cogger in their halves over Tyson Gamble. Image: Getty

Even though Gamble was instrumental in that run, Johns says picking Cogger to partner Hastings in the halves for Thursday night's clash with the Raiders is a no-brainer. "I'm a really big fan of Cogger ... In my opinion, he is a must. He'll start," Johns told AAP.

"Jack has started to understand his own game and what works for him. His contribution in the grand final for Penrith has been so greatly under-appreciated. The confidence it must have given Jack."

Hastings is expected to retain his spot as Knights halfback, with the No.6 jersey the one that seemingly hangs in the balance. Gamble was originally brought to Newcastle to play a similar role to that of Kurt Mann and with Mann making the switch to the Bulldogs in 2024, Johns believes Gamble can transition into his former utility role.

"Gamble originally was brought to the club to play a little bit of utility and the No.13 role, so I wouldn't be surprised if he slips back into that role," the Knights great said. "Whether it be starting, or coming off the bench."

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 27:  Kalyn Ponga of the Newcastle Knights poses after winning the 2023 NRL Dally M Medal and Fullback of the Year during the 2023 Dally M Awards at The Winx Stand, Royal Randwick Racecourse on September 27, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Kalyn Ponga won the Dally M in 2023 after helping the Knights go on a late-season surge into the finals. (Mark Kolbe via Getty Images)

Kalyn Ponga key to Knights' success again in 2024

After a shaky start to the 2023 season amid concussion concerns, Kalyn Ponga starred in the middle and back end of last season, which saw him win the Dally M. Already widely viewed as one of the best players in the game, this season looms as a pivotal one for Ponga if the Knights are to build on last year's success and Johns believes Ponga has plenty to prove.

"Probably the most unsexy word these days is consistency. Particularly in an age of highlight reel moments," Johns said. "But for Kalyn that's the next step. When you're taking up a lot of the cap, like Kalyn is, then it's your duty every week that you're 'on'."

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"The five-eighth experiment (early last year), whilst it didn't work, I get the feeling that in a lot of ways it helped his game," Johns said. "I think it gave him a greater appreciation of other roles and things you have to do. With playmakers you actually start to understand your own game. You understand what sequencing suits your game, where you like to receive the football and what attacking shapes you should use.

"I'm starting to see that with Kalyn. He sits on that left side, just past the posts. And he rips around and threatens that third-last defender. And (Kalyn) either feints and skips or cuts on the inside. It's just a nightmare for that defender."

with AAP

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