Newcastle coach Adam O’Brien has lauded Kalyn Ponga’s bravery after he was smashed by Cronulla in Friday’s 38-10 win at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Just a week after the Knights were handed a 30-point lashing by the Warriors, a brutal honesty session and a dose of toughness put their season back on track.
But it cost blood and bone as the Sharks left Ponga battered – but with his first NRL hat trick of tries to ease the pain.
An early hit by Braydon Trindall gave him a bleeding nose, but a flying shoulder charge from Chad Townsend knocked the stuffing out of him midway through the second half.
And each time, Ponga bounced back up with a smile on his face.
“(Ponga) gets lots of wraps, and rightfully so for how talented he is, but he’s a tough kid,” O’Brien said.
“For what he cops, and he cops it every week – they’re looking to take his head off and get stuck into him and he just keeps fighting the whole way.
“He’s only a 22-year-old kid with a heap of talent, but he’s bloody tough.”
As well as his tries, Ponga finished with 181 running metres and a whopping 13 tackle breaks.
O’Brien said the Queensland fullback had a twinkle in his eye prior to the game and he could tell Ponga was in for a big match.
But so was the rest of the team after a brutal honesty session on Monday in which even coaching staff were not spared from tough feedback.
“The players sparked it, we were preparing on Monday morning,” O’Brien said.
‘They were really honest during the week about some preparation.
“They gave some coaches feedback as well, so we’re all in it.
“I could tell there was a nervous energy about us in the dressing rooms beforehand and I think staff were in that too.
“We understood, not relative to where we are in the season, it’s important that after a performance (like the Warriors’ loss) that you can bounce back.”
It’s an energy the Knights will need to take into next week’s match against the Sydney Roosters at the SCG as they look to cement a home final.
State of Origin prop Daniel Saifiti, Edrick Lee and Sione Mata’utia are all a chance to return from injury.