How Knights must change approach with KP gone – or find themselves back where they were when Joey retired


I’m sorry Newcastle, but this won’t be your year. Unless your whole approach can change.

Kalyn Ponga’s Lisfranc injury may have cost him 12 weeks in the sideline, but it has also cost Newcastle the 2024 season.

In a struggling Newcastle attack, Ponga has been the only shining light. His ability to find space and exploit a tired defence is something the Novocastrians have relied on for too long, and now it has come back to bite them in a big way.

Knights’ fans have done it tough since the Johns era, and the administration have done them no favours. Ponga’s emergence as the premier fullback in the competition gave Newcastle hope. That hope went a little too far however – blind faith. Blind faith and reliance to a point where, without KP, the Knights are no chance.

Kalyn Ponga. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

To achieve success in this game, its imperative to have that marquee player to build a team around. Panthers have Nathan Cleary. The Chooks have James Tedesco. Manly have Daly Cherry-Evans. Newcastle, have KP. But it’s important that you play a style of footy that your marquee player fits into, not to build your whole system around that player.

Penrith seem to get along fine when Nathan Cleary is out. Sean O’Sullivan steered the Panthers home at the back end of the season in 2022. Jack Cogger did the same in 2023. Yes, the Panthers have a brilliant attack, and stars all over the park, but their system allows for success. Individual brilliance is the cherry on top of a well thought out, strategic system put in place by coach Ivan Cleary. So, when Cleary is injured, or they lose a star to another club, the Penrith system remains, and the juggernaut continues to roll on.

Newcastle’s system, so obviously hinges solely on the fullback to have a blinder. So much so, that even when he is visibly injured, and in pain, coach Adam O’Brien refuses to take him off the field, hoping for a miracle. It cost them the game against the Roosters, where KP spent most of the first half in agony, the Newcastle attack faltered. Only after medical treatment at halftime, were Newcastle able to gain momentum late in the second half, though it was too little too late.

Against the Bulldogs, the Knights capitulated. KP again was in visible discomfort. Unable to run, and no longer an attacking threat. Their attack fell apart and it cost them a try in the second half with KP failing to clean up a regulation grubber. KP finally succumbed to his injury and left the field.


Adam O’Brien. (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

O’Brien’s reluctance to take his star off while KP struggled to break out of a jog showed how dependent this team, and this town, is on their captain.

Statistics show that the Knights have won just 14 of their 37 games without Ponga since he joined the club in 2018.

This reminds us all of a struggling Newcastle outfit whenever the eighth Immortal, Andrew Johns, was injured. Granted Joey was something of a revelation, I find it hard to believe Newcastle are back in the same predicament some 17 years after Joey retired.

Even with KP, the knights were struggling for form. The revolving door of half combinations, and an underperforming forward pack leaves Adam O’Brien bereft of answers.

Newcastle’s roster is top 8 quality. They have shown that in the past. Dane Gagai and Bradman Best are State of Origin quality. Their forward pack has size, speed and aggression. The addition of Kai Pearce-Paul, and the return of rake Jayden Brailey had the Novocastrian outfit a lock for finals footy. However, after Round 7, the Knights are sitting 2 wins from 7 games and the prospect of their main man out for the next three months.

So how does Newcastle turn this around? Without KP sweeping around the back and breaking ankles, this Newcastle team will need to play some footy. As with all teams, it starts with the pack. If their forwards lay a platform for Jackson Hastings, the Knights can score points. But it is up to the players to stand up and take it upon themselves. ‘Origin Gags’ also needs to make an appearance. We all know what he is capable of.

This injury could be a catalyst for Newcastle to change their attitude, be accountable and play to their potential. I for one, hope this is the case, because when Newcastle, a proud rugby league town are on top, the whole town is a buzz. When Newcastle wins, rugby league wins.

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