Newcastle Knights captain Kalyn Ponga has been called out over what's been labelled an "embarrassing" post-match interview, following his side's latest chastening defeat.
The Knights - who were top of the table after winning their opening two matches of 2022 - are now languishing on the bottom of the ladder after being destroyed by the Melbourne Storm on Sunday.
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The 50-2 drubbing by the Storm was the heaviest defeat in Adam O’Brien’s tenure, and is sure to ramp up pressure on the under-fire coach.
Newcastle were also thumped 39-2 at home against the Eels in round seven, just days after the club triumphantly announced the re-signing of Ponga on a multi-million dollar deal.
The Queensland Origin star has been unable to lift his struggling Knights from their current predicament, with the Newcastle skipper slammed over his response to the club's mauling by the Storm on Sunday.
Ponga was asked during a post-match interview what he would say to his team after the 48-point drubbing left them rock bottom on the ladder.
“Probably not much… I don’t know. I did a fair bit of talking throughout the week but I don’t know. I’ll think of something,” Ponga told Fox League.
Penrith Panthers legend Greg Alexander said it was an “embarrassing” answer to the question for Ponga and the Knights.
“He said ‘not much’ and then he realised what he’d said… and then he realised that he’d put his foot in it,” Alexander told SEN Breakfast on Monday.
“I thought it was quite an embarrassing moment for a captain to be saying that.”
Calls are growing for Ponga to relinquish the captaincy, with The Daily Telegraph’s Dave Riccio suggesting that he's simply not a natural leader.
“I’m starting to question if Kalyn Ponga is the right captain for Newcastle,” Riccio said on SEN Breakfast.
“There’s not much I’ve seen so far from Kalyn so far as far as sending a strong message... that this is going to be OK.
“I get it. You can’t sugar-coat a lemon, but it just needed more than that. It reminds me when Matty Moylan was made captain at Penrith. Some people just aren’t natural leaders.”
Knights season goes from bad to worse
The Knights no doubt missed the experience and guile of centre Dane Gagai and hooker Jayden Brailey, but Alexander said it was no excuse for the current funk the club is in.
The league great pointed to the fact Newcastle had their core group of playmakers - namely Ponga, Jake Clifford and Adam Clune - available during the six-game losing streak.
“My god…. people will say ‘you’re being too hard on them’… but all those key players have been there for them in the last six weeks,” Alexander said.
“I don’t think you can pick Jake Clifford or Adam Clune in the halves, but what do you do? Anthony Milford can’t play until Round 11.”
Knights legend Matthew Johns said the club is in "a serious rut" and the players need to rediscover their confidence and resilience, if they hope to improve.
“They’re in a serious rut Newcastle. They’re not playing with any confidence. They’re not playing with any resilience. When something goes wrong, the wheels just completely come off," he said on Fox League’s Sunday Night with Matty Johns.
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