Andrew Johns rips 'terrible' Knights as Kalyn Ponga crashes back to earth in NRL loss

The superstar fullback had a hot and cold night as the Knights went down to the Canberra Raiders.

Kalyn Ponga and the Newcastle Knights have plenty of work to do after an underwhelming performance in their 28-12 loss to the Canberra Raiders on Thursday night. Coming off their extraordinary run to the finals last year and Ponga's Dally M triumph, the Knights are tipped for great things again in 2024.

The Raiders aren't expected to compete for the finals this year, but made a mockery of those claims on Thursday night. Hudson Young was an absolute beast, but was placed on report for hitting Ponga in the head with his shoulder well after he'd passed the ball in the first half.

Andrew Johns, pictured here during the Knights' loss to Canberra in the NRL.
Andrew Johns wasn't impressed with Kalyn Ponga and the Newcastle Knights. Image: Getty

The Raiders second-rower had a try, a try assist, two tackle breaks and a line-break in a dominant performance to lead his side to victory. For the Knights, Ponga had flashes of brilliance but didn't seem to get his hands on the ball nearly enough.

He had a moment of magic in the first half when he burst through two defenders on a kick return, before weaving past more defenders and putting Tyson Gamble under the posts. However the play was called back because the Raiders had been obstructed by Tyson Frizell.

Ponga's hot and cold night was indicative of the Knights' overall performance, which left club legend Andrew Johns unimpressed in commentary. After Danny Levi sliced through some feeble defence to score, Johns said on Channel 9: "Geez that is terrible defence and ruck play."

After another set of six in which Ponga went completely missing, Johns said: "That was horrible. Someone needs to take control out there."

Speaking post-game, the Knights legend added: "I don't think they built the game well in the first half-hour. I think they turned up thinking all they had to do was finesse their way to victory without doing the hard work.

"People talking about changes - they need to take a deep breath. Jackson Hastings and Tyson Gamble deserve to be there based on what happened last year."

Jordan Rapana, pictured here scoring for Canberra against Newcastle.
Jordan Rapana scores for Canberra against Newcastle. (Getty Images)

Kalyn Ponga called out after underwhelming display for Knights

Johns had pin-pointed Ponga as the key for the Knights when speaking pre-game. "He's pretty much key. He is one of the great attacking players in the world - with Kalyn fit and playing most games, I think the Knights can really push for a top-four spot this year. A lot of expectation and with expectation comes pressure … hopefully they deliver."


But Thursday night's performance shows there needs to be much improvement. "Tough way to start the season - we were probably our own worst enemy," Hastings said after full-time.

"They won little moments on last tackle and we just weren't disciplined enough. It's not good enough in front of our home fans … we let them down a little bit tonight. It's not one person, it's a team thing and we all contributed to the errors. We need to have a look at each other."

Daniel Saifiti and Kalyn Ponga, pictured here after Newcastle's loss to Canberra.
Daniel Saifiti and Kalyn Ponga look on after Newcastle's loss to Canberra. (Getty Images)

Knights coach Adam O'Brien was scathing, saying in his press conference: "Our game lacked any sort of grit. I felt we wanted the highlight reel and the other mob - they came here wanting to get into a scrap, and we didn't. We got a lesson in what wins games in the first month of footy."

Fans were quick to call out Ponga on social media. Although he certainly wasn't the only Knights player who failed to fire in the first game of the season.

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