Newcastle Knights boss Peter Parr has issued a massive challenge to superstar captain Kalyn Ponga, urging him to take ownership of the side in 2023.
Ponga played just 14 games this year due to injury and concussions, and provided very little while he was on the field as Newcastle slumped to a bottom-four finish.
The absence of Mitchell Pearce put a major strain on the club, as they went from back-to-back finals appearances to narrowly-avoiding the wooden spoon.
Adam O’Brien has been forced to shake things up this pre-season, with all signs pointing towards Ponga moving into the halves and partnering new recruit Jackson Hastings.
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In an interview with Big Sports Breakfast on Friday morning, Parr said that Ponga’s potential move into the halves could depend on the fullback options at the club.
“I think Adam O’Brien would like to have the option of putting Kalyn into the halves…there seems to be a lot more speculation about that outside of the club than inside,” he said.
“I think ultimately, Kalyn and Adam and the coaching staff will decide where Kalyn plays, but if we could snag a fullback I think that would give Adam some options to consider.
“At the moment Kalyn is the only established fullback in the squad, so what we would like to do is potentially snag a fullback and then that would give Adam options of where he could play Kalyn and other players of course.”
Bailey Hodgson is the only other fullback currently in Newcastle’s top squad, but the 20-year-old is yet to make his NRL debut and it would be a huge ask to throw him into the No.1 jumper to start the year.
Tesi Niu and Lachlan Miller have both been touted as potential signings, but with no official word at this stage, there is doubt remaining over Ponga in the five-eighth role.
But according to Parr, the million-dollar man needs to step up and take ownership of the side, bringing his State of Origin form for Queensland to the Knights on a consistent basis.
“I think that is something that Kalyn is well aware of,” he said.
“His form for Queensland is impeccable and he plays those games like he wants it more than any other game he has played in. I think when you watch someone like James Tedesco, he plays like that every weekend.
“I think that is where Kalyn needs to get to…I think that is where Kalyn would like to get to. I know he has a great desire to get more consistency in his footy. He knows what he is capable of and he also understands that he hasn’t done it on a consistent basis at club level.
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“I think he is getting to the stage of his career where he needs to start owning this footy team. It has got to be his team a bit like Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Andrew Johns, Darren Lockyer, they all owned the team.
“He is still only a young man, but I think now he is getting to that stage of his career.”
Newcastle will kick off their 2023 campaign with a clash against the Warriors.