Newcastle captain Kalyn Ponga has gone in to bat for Knights playmaker Tyson Gamble after his teammate's foul-mouthed swipe at NRL great Willie Mason. Gamble took offence to Mason describing the Knights' spine as the worst in the competition and suggesting they were a one-man team. Gamble hit out at the former premiership winner after last Sunday's 30-28 elimination-final win over Canberra.
In an interview with AAP, Gamble told Mason to "get f***ed" and suggested the 43-year-old - who is part of Canterbury's coaching staff - should focus on the problems at his own club. "Everybody's got an opinion. It's alright, he should probably worry about his own backyard before he starts worrying about other people," Gamble said.
'IT'S TELLING': Joey's warning amid Harry Grant reveal about Cam Smith
'ASKING FOR TROUBLE': Shock Bellamy twist after Ryan Papenhuyzen injury
"He was a middle, not a half so tell him to get f***ed. We're not a team of superstars, we've got Kalyn who is the biggest star in the game. We're a team of blokes who do their job and that's why we're in the position we're in."
Kalyn Ponga backs teammate over Willie Mason outburst
The Knights ended Canberra's season on Sunday courtesy of their 10th straight win, with Ponga's sensational form instrumental to that remarkable run to the second week of the finals. Speaking ahead of Saturday's crunch clash with the Warriors in Auckland, Ponga said his teammate had every right to be filthy with Mason, even if Gamble has apologised to his club for bringing attention to the club with his emotional outburst.
"What Tyson said was right, and this is why we love Tyson because he uses that passion," Ponga - who happens to be a friend of Mason's - said. "He hit the nail on the head. It's a team collectively. It's why we're in the position we're in, because everyone's doing their job.
"You look at Tyson's efforts this year, even on the weekend. He was in some of the biggest moments in that game. He played a great role for us. Jacko (Jackson Hastings) went off and he stepped up. I don't think he deserves the comments that he got from Mase. On the weekend he showed that."
With regular No.7 Hastings not expected to recover in time from the ankle injury he suffered in Sunday's win over Canberra, it means more responsibility is likely to be heaped on the shoulders of Gamble. The crafty playmaker is expected to be partnered in the halves by Adam Clune for the clash against the Warriors, with the latter having filled the role for Newcastle earlier in the season.
Gamble is known to wear his heart on his sleeve during matches and was heard blowing up in the biggest flashpoint against the Raiders after accusing Jack Wighton of biting his arm. Gamble was at the centre of several key plays for the Knights in their elimination final win over Canberra and Ponga has backed the playmaker to maintain the composure and growing sense of maturity he's shown over the course of 2023.
"He's just passionate. He embodies what this town is about," Ponga added. "But he knows what his role is and that's probably why he seems so controlled. He knows what his role is in the team.
"If he didn't know what his role was and he was just playing on emotion, he probably would look erratic. But he knows what he needs to do."
Newcastle centre Bradman Best also threw his support behind Gamble and insisted the 27-year-old was well within his rights to stand up for himself by putting Mason in his place. "It was more of a stab at him which is personal for him because he is in the spine. But he's been one of our best all year," Best said.
"Everyone's doubting us. It's been happening all year, we've been written off. 100 per cent it's (fuelled us). We just keep turning up. We've won 10 in a row."
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.