Kalyn Ponga provided an emphatic statement about his status in the NRL after showing up Latrell Mitchell in a masterclass performance for the Newcastle Knights against South Sydney on Sunday. In a match-up of two of the game's most dominant fullbacks, it was the Knights skipper who delivered a knockout blow on his Rabbitohs rival.
Ponga starred in the impressive 29-10 win that keeps Newcastle's finals charge going, and leaves the Rabbitohs likely needing to win their remaining regular season game against the Roosters to finish in the top eight. Newcastle's skipper was on fire in the first half and had a hand in all three of the home side's tries in the first forty - with winger Greg Marzhew the beneficiary on each occasion.
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The Knights captain finished the game with two try assists, 134 running metres, four tackle breaks and three line breaks in a display that completely overshadowed Mitchell. The Rabbitohs fullback's woes were further compounded after he was placed on report for an elbow to the head of Tyson Frizell that saw him sent to the sin bin. Mitchell now faces a one-game ban after being charged on Monday or two game if he fights the charge and loses.
Sunday's win was the Knights' seventh in a row and has cemented their spot in the top eight, with Ponga's form instrumental to that incredible resurgence from Adam O'Brien's men. Ponga's decision to make himself unavailable for representative football in 2023 to concentrate on his club footy with Newcastle has certainly paid dividends.
Speaking on Fox League's coverage on Sunday, premiership-winning Sharks great Michael Ennis said he thought Ponga had edged Broncos flyer Reece Walsh as the competition's most in-form fullback. “Just when you thought Reece Walsh is the main man, Kalyn Ponga just continues to run him down,” Ennis said.
“I’ve got Kalyn Ponga’s form at the moment as the best fullback in the competition. At the moment he is playing better than any other fullback in the competition. Walsh has been outstanding, so too Dylan Edwards and Scott Drinkwater. But the last seven weeks from Ponga, I think he has been elite.”
NRL world in awe of Kalyn Ponga's display
Fans were also gushing in their praise of Ponga on social media. Many couldn't help but compare the performance of Ponga with that of Mitchell, arguing that the Rabbitohs superstar was completely shown up in a match that was crucial to both side's finals hopes.
They promoted this as the battle of the fullbacks. Ponga wants to play finals. Latrell can’t be bothered.
— journalistagendas (@journalistagen1) August 20, 2023
Impact of Ponga on winning matches compared too Latrell.
Night and day
— Bob M (@belco_ben) August 20, 2023
I todays game, if Latrell is worth a million, Ponga is worth 4
— Jeff Smith (@Jeffro6366) August 20, 2023
The way ponga is playing walsh isn’t guaranteed his qld jumper. He’s carving up latrell and the bunnies right now
— Ryan_Shaw (@Divci14) August 20, 2023
A couple of thoughts after watching the game live:
- Latrell does very little work off the ball. Spends long periods standing still
- Ponga worth every cent
- The ground announcer should be gagged and sedated. #nrlknightsrabbitohs #nrl #rugbyleague
— Tom Rock (@_TomRock_) August 20, 2023
Ponga > Latrell
— Morty 👻 (@MortyAUS) August 20, 2023
Kalyn Ponga leads Knights to seventh straight win
"Kalyn was causing us a lot of problems," Souths coach Jason Demetriou admitted after the match. Rabbitohs centre Campbell Graham was surprisingly targeted in the attacking masterclass from Newcastle, whose victory margin could have been even greater if Ponga kicked hadn't missed four out of six conversions.
"I'm really happy for the playing group," O'Brien said. "They've worked hard all year, it's not just for the last seven weeks when the results have fallen that way. They've worked hard since November."
The victory continues a stunning turnaround for the Knights, who sat in the bottom four after 19 rounds but are firmly entrenched in the top-eight. Newcastle are almost certain to qualify for the finals and need one win from their last two regular-season games, the second of which is against the struggling Dragons.
Souths - despite leading the comp after 11 rounds - are now in danger of missing out on the finals. With a bye coming up in round 26, the Bunnies will likely need to beat the Roosters in the final regular season game to finish inside the top eight.
"We're just a team playing without much confidence at the moment," Demetriou added. "You've got to play tough, you've got to wait for the opportunity to come. You've got to be prepared to take your medicine. They put pressure on us with their defence and they made our execution hard."
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