2022-04-13 20:35:00

Less is more for Kalyn Ponga.

A lot has been made about the Knights fullback’s start to the season.

To be honest, I think he’s still carrying that knee injury and that’s limiting his game.

But there’s another element as well and it comes down to him just simply doing too much.

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The Knights have changed the way they attack this year. They move the ball a lot more laterally, kind of similar to Penrith and those types of teams in that they have that No.13 that likes to pass the ball.

So for Kalyn, it’s a different style of attack to last year.

He might not have the most metres compared to some of the other NRL fullbacks at the moment but he’s very active on each play, particularly early on in the tackle count — and I feel like that’s not effective.

Currently he’s pushing on majority of plays around the ruck and then he’s rushing out wider to be on the end of a two-pass attacking shift which is vital in the success of the set. He’s then required to execute his next action wether it’s a pass, run or potentially a kick.

I just feel like sometimes for him less is more — think of it as quality over quantity.

There’s a way for the Knights to get more out of Kalyn Ponga. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

If we think back to State of Origin III last year on the Gold Coast, I believe it’s one of KP’s greatest games against elite opposition. He had limited engagement but all of it was extremely effective.

Ponga has got so many elite traits that a lot of players don’t have. I think if he took a step back, was less involved around the ruck and got to his point where he’s going to get the ball earlier it will allow him time to have a look up, analyse his opponent, execute the play.

That would make him a lot more effective for the Knights.

And for the record, I don’t think Ponga’s contract negotiations are impacting his form. No doubt it would be on his mind away from the field — he’s not a robot — but in no way do I believe that is affecting his performances.

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I must admit, I was really concerned when the Sharks signed Nicho Hynes as a halfback.

I was working in recruitment for an NRL club at the time and when I heard about the money that was being paid for him — and then when I heard he was going there as a halfback — I thought ‘wow, they’re crazy’.

But hear me out.

Hynes was blessed with top-tier teammates at the Storm.

He was never getting the ball where he was under pressure, he was always getting the ball at the right time or getting a quick play the ball.

I think that’s something not everyone notices and it’s actually why it’s so important to have a good No.9 because they give you the ball when it’s the right time. Having someone like Brandon Smith or Harry Grant, I just believed it was almost served on a platter for him to make his own decision — and he was able to do that really well as a fullback.

If the Sharks signed him to play at fullback I would have thought ‘yeah, OK, I think he’ll struggle a little bit but I think he can still be a good NRL fullback.’ But then when I heard he was going to play seven I thought ‘that’s crazy.’

And boy was I wrong.

Nicho Hynes has been impressive for the Sharks. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

After watching him in the first five rounds I am completely amazed.

It’s not easy to do what he’s doing. I’m sure it’s not all him… I’m sure his coach Craig Fitzgibbon plays a big part in it, as does the hooker Blayke Brailey and the team together is playing really well too… but it just seems so seamless.

He’s very calm, he executes his plays really well, he sees short sides really well and he just nails all the basics. It just seems to work for him.

That’s the beauty of rugby league though, sometimes it just works and you can’t pinpoint exactly what it is.

But at the moment, his start to the season has been unbelievable. That Round 3 performance against the Dragons, I was sitting at home watching it and thinking this is incredible.


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It’s pretty simple, you don’t become a better NRL player when you’re not playing in the NRL.

It’s a completely different level of footy.

There’s a lot of elements to playing in the NRL in terms of your preparation, the planning of your week, getting used to playing night games and getting used to playing against men that are so much older and more physical than you.

One of the most important things for a young player coming in is that they’ve got to have the hunger to figure out how to beat their opponent. The same things that you’ve done in the past, in lower grades, might not work anymore. So you’ve got to find that strength in your skills versus your opponents’ skills.

I’ve watched Sloan play for a long time and he’s got it — he’s a future superstar. He needs time in the game to be able to figure out that stuff I just mentioned. I’m confident he will figure it out… he just needs to play.

Sometimes there’s not a perfect way to learn in the NRL, sometimes you just need to take your bumps and bruises and fail. He’s a resilient kid and he’s got great character so I don’t think he would be damaged by making mistakes.

Tyrell Sloan should be playing NRL. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

If he’s not the Dragons’ best fullback option, then he has to be on the wing because he needs to be in the 17.

If they’ve dropped him after three weeks, then the Dragons obviously think they’ve made the wrong call because that’s not the right way to do it.

Ideally, if you think he’s not the best fullback at your club and you think he’s got some deficiencies that he needs to work on then you should have been able to identify those in pre-season and in the trials. Then what you do is play the more experienced guys ahead of him, while he gets his confidence in reserve grade and then he succeeds them.

Sometimes when you’ve got a young kid at fullback, the other skilled positions — so your No.9, No.6 and No.7 — need to be really contributing as well. But unfortunately, I think they’re probably letting him down at the moment.

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I suppose the coach thinks ‘I can’t drop Bent Hunt and I can’t drop Andrew McCullough. I can drop the No.6, but I’ve also got to drop the No.1.’

It’s not all on Tyrell Sloan.

There was a good point raised on NRL 360 the other night. If they say he’s been dropped because of his defence, well they’ve actually conceded more points in the last two games than what they did in the first three weeks.

But this is what I always take into consideration as well… He’s only a young kid and he might have some off-field things that we don’t know about — and that would be none of our business. If that was the case, then maybe the Dragons are doing the right thing by this kid.

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I think Shane Flanagan is the perfect match for the Tigers.

They seem to be a club that’s always under pressure and I don’t think that’s going to change if a new coach comes in — in fact, there could be even more pressure. I see Flanagan as a resilient type of coach that could handle that.

And his recruitment experience is really important too. They need a coach with a good understanding of the market, who knows the price of players, knows who is available and has a connection with agents. I think he’s got that after working as a list management consultant at the Dragons.

We know he’s a successful coach — a premiership-winner. The only reason he’s not in a head coaching role is because of his suspension.

Shane Flanagan could steer the Tigers in the right direction. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Flanagan also has a knack for developing players. He brought in Jack Bird, Valentine Holmes, Chad Townsend, the Brailey brothers — skilled position players — which is where the Tigers are lacking.

The Tigers have done a lot of great work in developing their pathways in the last few years, particularly around that Group 6 area and I think while they’ll reap the rewards of that, Flanagan can really assist too.

Flanagan knows Sydney well and his son is around that mid-20s age so he’s watched a lot of players in that age group come through.

I think he could be really competitive at the Tigers.

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Wayne Bennett, the Dolphins coach, isn’t taking over a roster that has players in it that he doesn’t want — he’s building it from scratch.

Yes, there will be some people on the roster that aren’t his preferred players but he’s not inheriting players that he just doesn’t want or don’t suit his character or the culture he wants to instil.

We saw what Wayne did with the Rabbitohs last year, how he improved players and got the best out of them.

If there’s any coach that can lead the Dolphins to the finals in their first season it’s Wayne Bennett. Photo Steve PohlnerSource: News Corp Australia

I also think the players the Dolphins have already recruited, like the Bromwich brothers and Felise Kaufusi — those guys just don’t miss out on making the top eight. They’re experienced players and they’re winners.

Yes, they might be changing clubs but you don’t lose that experience and drive.

It’s really not that big of an ask anyway… The Titans made the eight last season with just 10 wins after all.

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