Judge me on my NRL defence: whiz kid Ponga

He’s been hailed for his attacking brilliance but Newcastle sensation Kalyn Ponga wants to be recognised just as much for his NRL defensive grit.

Just like Billy Slater and other great fullbacks, Ponga says he puts more emphasis on saving tries than scoring them.

Many baulked at the Knights’ decision to offer the the livewire Queenslander $700,000 a year and their attempt to rebuild the club around a 19-year-old.

But after one appearance for the Knights, he’s already shaping as a sound investment after prising open the Manly defence numerous times in last week’s season opener.

He finished with one try, one line break, 104 metres and was already being speculated about as a future State of Origin star.

But while he’s happy to do the flashy stuff, he says it’s keeping the opposition out – such as his desperate try-saving tackle on Akuila Uate – which gives him the most satisfaction.

All the great fullbacks (defence) is the strong point of their games,” Ponga said.

Guys like Billy Slater – as a fullback, that’s my role. It’s something I really want to work on.

(Coach Nathan Brown) is into me about it; my old coach (North Queensland’s Paul Green) was into me about it as well.

It’s something I really want to improve.”

If Ponga is under pressure to deliver at the Knights, he seemed oblivious and shrugged off suggestions he came into his first Knights pre-season being weighed down by expectation.

People keep saying that, I don’t know why,” Ponga said.

Pre-season is pre-season. It’s pretty hard. Everyone’s getting themselves fit for round one and that’s what we did.

A lot of combinations were made, which we’re still working on.”

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