NRL makes salary cap call on Kalyn Ponga amid latest concussion setback

The Knights face a worrying truth in the wake of Kalyn Ponga's latest concussion.

Seen here, Knights captain Kalyn Ponga watches Newcastle's win over the Tigers from the sideline after suffering concussion.
Kalyn Ponga was forced to watch the majority of Newcastle's win over the Tigers from the sideline after his fourth concussion in 10 months. Pic: Getty

The Newcastle Knights won't be given any salary cap relief if Kalyn Ponga is ruled out of rugby league for an extended period, following clarification from NRL CEO Andrew Abdo on Tuesday. Ponga copped a nasty blow to his head making a tackle in the second minute of the 14-12 win over the Tigers on Sunday, and has been ruled out of the round three match against the Dolphins after failing an HIA.

It's Ponga's fourth concussion in 10 months and came in just his second game back in the NRL after he was sidelined at the back end of 2022 because of repeated head knocks. Understandably, the latest incident has sparked concerns around Ponga's future in the sport, with the Knights set to take a cautious approach when deciding how to handle their captain's comeback to the NRL.

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The NRL currently offers salary cap relief for clubs who lose players to injuries in representative matches, as well as players who are stood down in line with the league's no fault policy. However, no such dispensation is currently given to clubs who lose players due to concussions.

As Newcastle's marquee player, Ponga is the highest-paid star at the club, meaning if he is out for an extended period, then the club has the best part of $1.4 million dollars sitting on the sidelines. NRL boss Abdo says while that is not set to change in 2023, league bosses are exploring salary cap dispensations for concussions, that could come into effect next season.

"The salary cap auditor has provisions within his remit to look at career-ending injuries, and also can look at long-term injuries as well," NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said. "Any type of dispensation would need to be handled case-by-case by the salary cap auditor within the rules.

"If there is an opportunity for us to modernise our rules based on what we are seeing in the game or based on what we would like to see in the game, there is the avenue to explore that. But that is something that would be done post-season and not during the season."

Following a number of early season head knocks, including Ponga's latest concussion setback, the NRL is considering the introduction of mandatory 11-day stand-downs for players after a concussion diagnosis. Under the new proposal, it's understood no exemptions would be given for players who have suffered concussions, to return to the field before that timeframe.

Pictured here, Newcastle Knights captain Kalyn Ponga.
Kalyn Ponga is facing another stint on the sidelines due to concussion. Image: Getty

Concussions a growing concern in rugby league

The ARL Commission is expected to meet this week to discuss growing concerns around concussions and head knocks, with recent studies and new technologies at the forefront of talks. NRL great James Graham - who suffered his fair share of concussions and has been outspoken on the topic - is among those calling for mandatory stand-downs, under the recommendation of doctors.

"My advice would be to be guided by the medical professionals," Graham told reporters on Tuesday. "The powerbrokers - people like Andrew Abdo and Peter V'Landys - they're fully aware of what's at stake here.

"It's difficult, and I don't envy their position where they'll likely be judged on this in years to come. From what I've witnessed so far is they do have the athletes' long-term health needs when it comes to degenerative brain issues.

"This isn't an opinion piece, this should be based on factual information and understanding professional athletes are willing to sacrifice their future for the present. Perhaps they need to be protected from themselves. That likely needs to be considered when it comes to this.

"Sometimes the very group you're trying to protect are against it. That's young people wanting to do what young people do."

with AAP

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