Phil Gould questions Newcastle Knights over controversial Kalyn Ponga move

The NRL icon has added to concerns about the Newcastle Knights captain's future in the game.

Phil Gould, pictured here questioned Newcastle's decision to move Kalyn Ponga from fullback to five eighth.
Phil Gould has questioned Newcastle's decision to move Kalyn Ponga from fullback to five eighth. Image: Channel 9/Getty

NRL icon Phil Gould has bemoaned the 'obsession' with moving star fullbacks to five-eighth as questions continue to be asked of the Newcastle Knights' treatment of Kayln Ponga. The Newcastle captain suffered his fourth serious head knock in the last 10 months on Sunday and was forced out of the Knights' clash with the Tigers.

The 24-year-old is now set for another stint on the sidelines after his 2022 season came to a premature end due to repeated concussions. On Monday night, Gould joined those who have questioned why the Knights opted to move Ponga from fullback to five-eighth this year, given it means he has to defend in the front line and make more tackles.

HUGE NEWS: James Tedesco set to re-sign amid Roosters drama

'NOT WORKING': Benji Marshall detail emerges in Wests Tigers farce

"The people who coach him and work with him every day probably know best what position he should be playing. I don't like to second-guess coaches for that reason," Gould said on 100% Footy on Monday night.

"I just don't understand the obsession these days with trying to move class fullbacks into the five-eighth position. Maybe because they can go and buy another fullback but they can't go and buy another five-eighth. I just don't know that's the right position for him at the moment ."

Ponga suffered three head knocks in three games last season in what is becoming a sadly familiar sight. "My concern with Kalyn - and I've retired two players because of repeated concussions in my career - is the ease with which it happens now," Gould added.

"I don't see those knocks as anything over the top, (or knocks) that should be causing that sort of problem for him. It just seems now he reacts badly to collisions that are really quite easy, and that's not a good sign.

"I think his career is in jeopardy, to be honest. I don't know how you sort through that. I get concerned more at the ease with which they get concussed and how repeatedly that happens."

Kalyn Ponga, pictured here looking on from the sideline during Newcastle's clash with the Wests Tigers.
Kalyn Ponga looks on from the sideline during Newcastle's clash with the Wests Tigers. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Matty Johns calls out Kalyn Ponga move after latest blow

Newcastle great Matty Johns expressed similar sentiments on Monday. "When you are a kid and your whole life you have defended in the front line, there is so much of defence that is intuition," Johns said on SEN radio. "You just know where to place your head, where to place your feet. How to drop, when to drive.

"It doesn't safeguard you from concussions ... but for (Ponga) this is a whole new kettle of fish. Yesterday the guy was going towards him with a bit of footwork and he got his head caught in an awkward position. That can happen to anyone.

"But if Kalyn is their most important player, which he is, then they have to make a decision on where he best sits in the side." Johns said he has spoken to brother Andrew, who works as a defensive coach at the Knights, about the issue.

Kalyn Ponga, pictured here on the ground after colliding with Asu Kepaoa.
Kalyn Ponga lays on the ground after colliding with Asu Kepaoa. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

"These are a lot of really big decisions that sit in the lap of (coach) Adam O'Brien," Johns added. "The art of that defence, at the last second to get your footwork right and get your head on the right side, it is something that is learned over a long, long time."

Speaking on Sunday, O'Brien was unwilling to speculate how long Ponga would be sidelined. "We gave him the summer off, he had eight games off last season, he has some extended breaks," O'Brien said.

"He obviously won't play (against the Dolphins in round three) because we've got a five-day turnaround. He was cleared to play in the last two games last year and we chose to not play him."

Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.