Knights ditch ‘Kalyn Ball’ for surprise resurgence

Jasper Bruce |

Tyson Frizell says the resurgent Knights have learned to live without Kalyn Ponga.
Tyson Frizell says the resurgent Knights have learned to live without Kalyn Ponga.

Tyson Frizell admits Newcastle had been guilty of playing ‘Kalyn Ball’ until the superstar fullback’s unavailability forced the Knights to click into gear and begin salvaging their season.

When marquee player Kalyn Ponga suffered a long-term foot injury in the loss to Canterbury in late April, the Knights’ already lukewarm season looked set to spiral out of control.

After all, it had primarily been Ponga who had transformed the Knights into an attacking powerhouse on the way to claiming the Dally M Medal and a semi-final berth for his team in 2023.

But this time, the Knights have rediscovered their grit and won all three games since losing their co-captain, conceding fewer points across that span than triple reigning premiers Penrith.

Frizell believed an over-reliance on Ponga may have contributed to the Knights’ moderate 2-4 start to the new season.

“We were guilty of playing a little bit of ‘Kalyn Ball’ and relying on him a bit too much to create points,” the second-rower told AAP.

“We still haven’t been great with our attack, but we’ve been able to grind away our wins the past few weeks. 

“Hopefully we continue to build and then by the time he comes back, he can slot right in and add that extra X-factor that we know he can bring.”

As halfback Jackson Hastings sees it, the new game plan is simple.

“Losing Kalyn, we stripped it back a little bit,” he told AAP.

“We didn’t change who we were but we stripped it back a little bit and really focused on what we’re good at and that is defending, kicking to corners and making it hard for opposition teams.

“Certainly high completions, kicking long and defending well, we’ve got a coach (Adam O’Brien) who doesn’t care if we win 2-0. The grittier the better for him.”

Ponga’s injury has given previously uncapped David Armstrong the chance to announce himself on the NRL stage at fullback. 

The Mungindi product has scored two tries in his first three NRL games and averaged just shy of 150 run metres.

Hastings said Armstrong was an example of the Knights making the best of their bad injury situation

“I just think a lot of boys are getting to express themselves probably a little bit more than what they would if Kalyn was in the side,” he said.

“Obviously KP is such a huge part of what we do, he’s our captain, marquee man and arguably one of, if not the, best players in the competition. When you lose someone like that, it obviously hurts but everyone get a chance to step up.”

Now, the Knights are looking to make it four in a row against Gold Coast at Magic Round on Saturday and head into their bye on a high.

“We’ve got a chance to set ourselves up for the rest of the year whilst (Ponga) is out,” Hastings said.