Billy Slater's call on Kalyn Ponga after Andrew Johns rips woeful display

The Newcastle Knights produced an embarrassing performance against Parramatta.

Billy Slater, pictured here alongside Kalyn Ponga and Andrew Johns.
Billy Slater has defended Kalyn Ponga after Andrew Johns blasted Newcastle's performance. Image: Getty

Billy Slater has defended the form of incumbent Queensland fullback Kalyn Ponga after an embarrassing display against Parramatta last weekend. The Newcastle five-eighth missed a whopping 11 tackles (and only made 10) as the Eels ran in seven tries to win 43-12.

It was Ponga's first full game since returning from his latest concussion layoff, but the uninspired performance will be ringing alarm bells for Slater. Ponga is the incumbent fullback for the Maroons and was close to their best player in the 2022 series - which they won 2-1.

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But the emergence of Reece Walsh has heaped pressure on Slater to pick the Broncos fullback for the Maroons. Ponga's State of Origin chances also haven't been helped by the fact he's been moved to five-eighth this year by Newcastle coach Adam O'Brien.

But according to Slater, Ponga can't be fairly judged yet due to the stop-start nature of his 2023 season so far. “He’s played three games in 10 months. That’s not easy to do,” the Queensland coach said on Sunday.

“The time that he’s had out since round two, he hasn’t done a lot of running, he hasn’t had a lot of training and our game is a game you need timing and getting your reps in. He needs to play a bit more footy and when your team is off the pace, it doesn’t help."

Newcastle legend Andrew Johns was scathing in his assessment of Ponga and the Knights' performance against Parramatta, which was described as 'embarrassing' and 'pathetic' around the NRL world. “There were 65 missed tackles (by the Knights), Parramatta made 13 clean breaks,” Johns said.

Newcastle Knights players, pictured here after their loss to Parramatta.
Newcastle Knights players look on after their loss to Parramatta. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

“Parramatta should have scored another five tries - they bombed certain tries - so the score could have been 70-80. They are off the pace, so far off the pace it’s not funny. It was hard to watch. They showed zero fight.”

Johns pointed out the fact that Newcastle have shown great fight this year despite their position on the ladder (14th). However he was left fuming over their display against the Eels.

“They’ve really competed hard this year, but they were disappointing on Friday. Some of the missed tackles...” Johns said.

Jackson Hastings backs Kalyn Ponga to bounce back

Meanwhile, Newcastle halfback Jackson Hastings says Ponga will be better for the hit-out against Parra. As well as the missed tackles, Ponga couldn't get anything going in attack, running for just 77 metres.

"People will have their opinions on what happened, but a lesser person would've just sat back and pulled themselves completely out of the game," Hastings said. "He went and chased it.

"You can't look at one player, you've got to look at 1-17. He's been around the block, he's a talented kid and he'll bounce back. That game will be one he looks back on and it's a learning curve.

"He hasn't experienced anything like that I don't think and it'll be good for him. When I say it'll be good for him, he's got to take his lessons. We've all got to take our lessons."

Speaking after the loss, Ponga said: "I've got to own my performance. I'm obviously disappointed with it. 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.”

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