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NRL: Refreshed Ponga hoping Knights pick up where they left off


Newcastle Knights superstar Kalyn Ponga achieved a fair bit of success in 2023.

However, he’s hungry for more – from a team perspective, as well as individually.

The gifted No. 1 enjoyed a superb back end to the season, leading his side to 10 consecutive victories and an elusive finals berth.

Then, for good measure, he claimed the Dally M Player of the Year and Danny Buderus Medal honours.

But, it’s only fuelled his desire to take his game to the next phase.

That includes winning a premiership and returning to the Queensland and Australian squads as well.

Newcastle Knights’ No. 1 Kalyn Ponga. Photo: NRL Imagery

“I guess the way we finished off 2023 has spurred myself on… and the boys,” he said.

“You could probably see from our performances, that we kept building as a unit.

“So, now, we know what our footy looks like, we know what structures are in place and we know what each other is capable of.

“It’s about holding everyone accountable to that.

“That’s not just the players, but the coaching staff, too.

“We want to build on what we started.

“Sure, missing out on a Kangaroos jumper hurt.

“Obviously, playing at the highest level was a goal of mine.

“However, I wasn’t disappointed at Mal (Meninga), I was just disappointed that I didn’t make it.

“It’s not an easy team to get into but I hope to get back there one day.

“It’s the same for the Queensland side.

“I want to play that arena, sure.

“But, you have to work hard and earn the right, like Reece Walsh did.

“I’m not going into next season thinking about it.

“I just want to play well for Newcastle in club land and, hopefully, everything will fall into place from there.

“As for winning the Dally M, it gives me a bit of extra belief that I can be the player I want to be.

“I know what sort of work I need to do to get there.

“So, it’s just about doing that and more.”

Kalyn Ponga with Danny Buderus
Newcastle Knights star Kalyn Ponga with Danny Buderus. Photo: Newcastle Knights

One thing that’s impressed Ponga since the Knights campaign ended is the enthusiasm of his team-mates.

“The entire playing group has come back really well,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“The younger boys returned a bit earlier and set the pace for us, so we’ve built on that momentum.

“However, there’s a feel around the place… we got a taste last year and we want more.

“Everyone’s energetic and excited about working hard and what might be next season.

“I’ve noticed the times are quicker [already].

“The performance staff is expecting more from us, however it’s something we also expect from ourselves.

“So, we’re setting standards between each other as a playing group, but from everyone else as well.

“An NRL title is clearly the goal.

“But, we’ve got a lot of work to do between now and then.

“We’ll bust ourselves before Christmas, and after, just to stay fit and focussed.

“There’s healthy competition for positions within the team.

“That’s why most of the guys stayed in Newcastle, training together.

“It’s the best time of the year really.

“There’s no pressure, you just get fit, working hard with your mates.

“I’ve spent previous off-seasons in a few different ways.

“However, I think as you get older, you sort of start to figure things out.

“Having a break completely (after the finals) works better for me personally.”

A new-look Kalyn Ponga recently fronted the local media. Photo: Rod Thompson

In what will please every Newcastle supporter, Ponga is confident the Knights can replicate their outstanding performances in 2024.

“At the moment, we’re all about getting the process right,” he said.

“We’ve got four weeks in this block and then we’ll have six-to-eight after that.

“While we focused on the process last year, we didn’t get the result right at the time.

“But, we stuck to it… and it paid off at the back end of the season.

“So, if we can get that right early, who knows what will happen?

“I’m sure we’ll be there or thereabouts.”

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