Ponga’s immediate NRL future in doubt after latest concussion
Newcastle star Matthew Johns has questioned whether the Knights need to bring Kalyn Ponga back to full-back to protect the Queensland native star.
Ponga’s immediate future remains in doubt after suffering an ugly concussion in Sunday’s win over Wests Tigers when the five-eighter received a hit to the head and pulled off a tackle.
It’s Ponga’s fourth concussion in 10 months and he came back in his second NRL game after sitting out late last season after repeated headbutts.
Johns declined to speculate about Ponga’s future in the game on Monday as he was concerned about the impact it could have on the 24-year-old’s mental well-being.
But he sees a potential need for the Knights to put him back in the No. 1 jersey when he returns from the final knock.
Ponga has had to average three tackles per game while playing at full-back throughout his career, compared to 12 at five eighths.
Johns said he spoke to his brother Andrew on Sunday about the issue, with rugby league Immortal, a half coach in Newcastle.
“When you’re a kid and you’ve been a frontline defender all your life, there’s so much defense that’s intuition,” Matthew Johns said on SEN.
“You just know where to put your head, where to put your feet. How to fall, when to ride.
“It won’t protect you from concussions… but for (Ponga), this is a whole new kettle of fish.”
“Yesterday the guy walked up to him with a bit of footwork and he got his head stuck in an awkward position. That can happen to anybody.
“But if Kalyn is their most important player, which he is, then they have to make a decision about where he best sits on the team.”
Ponga’s positional question mark is made more difficult by the fact that Lachlan Miller has impressed as a full-back for Newcastle and they lack depth in the halves.
“There are a lot of really big decisions that are in the lap of (coach) Adam O’Brien,” said Johns.
“The art of this defense, of getting the footwork right at the last second and getting your head on the right side, is something you’ve learned over a long, long time.”
Johns’ comments came as Luke Keary threw his support behind Ponga and advised the full-back to block talk over the headbutts.
Keary has suffered multiple concussions throughout his career, with the Roosters often taking a cautious approach.
“Everybody’s going to want their opinion on this, and it’s probably best if they turn off the TV, hang up the phone and talk to the right people,” Keary said.
“Don’t listen to everyone else.
“It happens in football and if you get a few in a row it’s highlighted a little bit more. I know the doctors will do the right thing for him, whatever that is.”