Adam O'Brien shoots down 'stupid' Kalyn Ponga move after 'horrible' display

The Newcastle Knights coach has responded to calls for Ponga to move back to five-eighth.

Adam O'Brien and Kalyn Ponga, pictured here after Newcastle's loss to Parramatta.
Adam O'Brien has shot down calls to move Kalyn Ponga back to fullback. Image: Getty/NRL

Adam O'Brien has rejected calls to shift Kalyn Ponga back to fullback from five-eighth after the Newcastle captain's lacklustre performance against Parramatta. Ponga made his first start at No.6 on Friday night since returning from his latest concussion layoff.

However he was unable to inspire his side to victory, with the Eels running out 43-12 winners in embarrassing scenes for the Knights. Ponga wasn't able to get much going in attack and missed a whopping 11 tackles in defence (with just 10 made).

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Ponga moved to five-eighth from fullback this season in the hope of touching the ball more in attack. And while he was quiet with ball in hand against Parramatta, his work in the defensive front-line was of greater concern.

Will Penisini threatened with every touch of the ball and burned Ponga for a line break in the 28th minute that would have resulted in an Eels try if he had support. Early in the second half, halfback Mitchell Moses streaked past Ponga just as Penisini did and set Clint Gutherson up for the third try of his hat-trick.

"I've got to own my performance. I'm obviously disappointed with it," Ponga said while speaking alongside O'Brien in the past-match press conference. “I want to be better than what I was tonight.

“My second game back, it’s definitely a learning experience (but) I’m not going to let that performance eat me up, I’m going to look at it, learn from it. I’ve just moved to six, it’s a journey, it’s an experience and I want to be better. But I’ve got to own my performance and I wasn’t good enough.”

Kalyn Ponga, pictured here after Newcastle's loss to Parramatta.
Kalyn Ponga looks on after Newcastle's loss to Parramatta. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

O'Brien shot down suggestions that the Knights would be better served with Ponga at fullback. "It's his third game this year," he said. "He hadn't finished at six, he played 80 minutes at six, it's his first time. I'm not stupid."

O'Brien described his side's performance as "horrible", adding: “I didn’t see it coming, but they haven’t been horrible (all season) so I’m not going to kick them to death either. I think it’s been a really big month on-field and off-field. There’s some stuff going on that you’d know about, then obviously losing ‘Brails’ (Jayden Brailey to an ACL injury).

“They’re going to sound like excuses but I don’t care if they sound like excuses. The team’s been working really hard for a month so there’s that part of me."

Will Kalyn Ponga retain State of Origin spot?

Ponga's poor performance against Parramatta came amid debate around whether Queensland should pick him at fullback for State of Origin. Ponga was among Queensland's best players in the Maroons' series triumph in 2022, however the emergence of Reece Walsh has seen him leapfrog Ponga in the eyes of many.

The Maroons are also set in the halves with Cameron Munster and Daly Cherry-Evans, and are also likely to continue with the hooking combo of Harry Grant and Ben Hunt - meaning there might not be room for Ponga on the bench as a utility. Queensland selector Darren Lockyer said this week: “What works against Kalyn is he’s not playing at fullback.

“Now he could go back to fullback and play it but it’s a specialised position – and Kalyn hasn’t forgotten how to play there - but if he’s not on a weekly basis playing and moving with those habits as a fullback, then that works against Kalyn. Reece, there’s some good tests in front of him over the next few weeks with some of the opposition the Broncos have got so I think the coach (Billy Slater) and the selectors will be watching closely some of those players who are in contention in big games.”

Walsh made a barnstorming start to the season but has come back to earth somewhat in the last two weeks.

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