Kalyn Ponga's 'dreadful' turn, Josh Schuster drama: Good, bad and ugly of NRL round 9
The Wests Tigers finally got their first win, but dramas have erupted at Newcastle and Manly.
😃 The good: Wests Tigers finally taste victory
😔 The bad: Kalyn Ponga's dreadful performance
😡 The ugly: Josh Schuster in more drama at Manly
The Wests Tigers finally chalked up their first win of the NRL season, while Kalyn Ponga and Josh Schuster found themselves in more unwanted headlines. Check out our recap of round nine:
Wests Tigers end their 273-day nightmare
How could you go to bed without a smile on your face after watching the Wests Tigers hold on for a courageous victory over Penrith on Saturday night? The Tigers celebrated like they'd won a semi-final match – and who could blame them?
It’s been a dark 12 months for the joint venture club and they deserved a decent party after beating the premiers in pouring rain at Bathurst. And it all started with an old-fashioned bonding session aboard the team bus.
"We had a good trip up…amazing what a good old Murrays bus trip up the mountain can do for players," coach Tim Sheens revealed. "They never shut up the whole time. It was a good bonding time to come together and get it done. We were desperate for each other."
In truth, this win had been coming for a few weeks. The Tigers pushed Parramatta all the way in round seven and should have beaten a poor Manly side in round eight.
Even better, the much-criticised Luke Brooks was the best player on the park at Bathurst, chalking up his first win in more than 12 months. "He had a good game, that's all I'm going to say. Brooksy doesn’t like seeing his name in the paper," Sheens said.
The challenge now for the Tigers, who were paying $1.30 to land the wooden spoon, is to back it up against St George Illawarra in Magic Round. If the revival is for real, they should get over the top of a down and almost out St George lllawarra.
Kalyn Ponga's performance against Parramatta
It's almost a year to the day Kalyn Ponga signed a contract extension tying him to the Knights until the end of 2027. At the time the multimillion-dollar deal was trumpeted as one of the great rugby league coups, not withstanding the circus that led up to it.
Ponga's father Andre, who appears to hold a Svengali-type sway over his son, fronted the press conference looking like the cat that had swallowed the canary and gone back for seconds. Twelve months on and it’s fair to say Newcastle isn’t exactly receiving value for money.
No-one is denying Ponga's ongoing concussion issues have played their part in his stop-start career in the Hunter and are no reflection on the player. But when he is out there and fully fit, the Knights skipper is not owning the big moments.
He was dreadful in the heavy loss to Parramatta on Friday night, missing an incredible 11 tackles. Ponga can be potent when his mind is on the job, but too often drifts in and out of games.
For the sort of money he's on – and as the team's marquee player – expectations are much, much higher. Watch the likes of Nathan Cleary, Nicho Hynes, Adam Reynolds, Mitch Moses and Cody Walker and compare their output and impact on a game to Ponga's.
Knights fans are among the most loyal and patient in the game but even they are starting to jump off the Ponga hype train. They will be watching his performances in Origin with great interest.
Josh Schuster drama deepens at Manly
Things are not great at Manly at the moment – and it all centres around Josh Schuster. And the way it's going, it would not surprise to see the out-of-favour five-eighth donning another club's colours before his contract is up.
Schuster is already skating on thin ice after failing to match the standards – both in form and attitude - expected of an NRL footballer. He is currently in footballing limbo, left out of the Manly side tortured by the man who was let go – Kieran Foran – to accommodate him at five-eighth.
The next day, two stories emerged that poured further doubt on Schuster's future at Brookvale. It was revealed the banished No.6 had a punch-up with NSW Cup player Dean Matterson on Friday at Manly's final training session before their clash with the Titans.
At the same time the club was dealing with that spot fire, another story appeared announcing the Sea Eagles' recruitment boss Scott Fulton was switching camps to the Tigers. Schuster is extremely close to the Fulton family, with the late Bob Fulton declaring him the closest thing he'd seen to Wally Lewis.
Scott Fulton is also very close to Manly's Polynesian contingent, including gun back-rower Haumole Olakau'atu. You don't have to be Einstein – or even Phil Gould – to work out where we're going with this.
Check back in every Monday for Adam Lucius' weekly recap of the NRL round that was.
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