|Ponga scoring against the Knights in round 8.|
Incredibly, Ponga took out the ANZAC Medal as man-of-the-match with a two-try haul in a striking display in the Cowboys’ win over the Knights in Townsville last weekend.
Playing without Johnathan Thurston for just the second time in his short career, Ponga had an aura about him whenever he touched the ball.
The anticipation that something is about to happen whenever the 19-year-old takes possession is reminiscent of when Josh Dugan first entered the NRL competition with Canberra.
Like Dugan at that age, Ponga has is rangy and has a cutting and jiggered running style, with the ability to break the line and find gaps in broken play. Ponga may be a tad cleaner than Dugan’s early-days, but both players entry to the NRL are not dissimilar.
While Dugan’s time at the Raiders never saw much team success outside some final’s appearances, Ponga looks likely to enjoy a flourishing year at the Cowboys before moving onto the Knights in 2018.
The securing of his services by Knights’ coach Nathan Brown and his recruitment staff for the next five years cannot be undersold. Nabbing the prized signature of the hottest young prospect in the game to a club which has collected back-to-back wooden spoons is nothing short of incredible.
There is no doubt Ponga will be handsomely rewarded for his time in the Hunter and while some critics have lauded the contract as a gamble by the Knights, the real challenge for Nathan Brown is to now build a team that can elicit and harness the best of Ponga’s talents.
Already struggling to follow up the astute pick-up of Ponga with another big recruit, the Knights look like they will have to be relying on developing up-and-coming youth as every day of the contract-year circus continues.
A strategy that has both its pros and cons, it’s worth noting the last true young-side to win the competition – Wests Tigers in 2005 – still had a blend of accurate mix of experience in amongst their rising stars.
|While Ponga will shine with JT by his side, things will be different in Newcastle.|
In the Knights favour is the raw talent of Ponga and the rest of the Knights’ crew of formative players. For the right price, you’d have to think signing a leader or two with a couple of hundred games of experience in the NRL wouldn’t be too difficult.
But failing to put the right side together could lead to a Canberra-like situation under David Furner; when, despite having some of the best young talent in the game, they couldn’t take the next step to premiership contenders.
Further, once the wheels appeared to have fallen off the Green-Machine bus, Dugan – the best player to come out of the A.C.T in years – decided to jump off. He was quickly followed by Anthony Milford and Blake Ferguson.
Hardly a scenario the Knights would want to fathom, but the risk is there. The next 18 months of recruitment will prove crucial to the mid-term future of one of the league’s most well-supported clubs.
But with Ponga figuratively locked-in for the next five years, the Knights should be able to sign some of the prizes they’re dangling their recruitment claw over in the off-contract arcade game of NRL 2017. What player wouldn’t want the dazzling half-Aussie half-Kiwi running off them?
Its clear Ponga’s well on his way to stardom and his move to Newcastle could just be the catalyst to turnaround one of the most iconic sides in Rugby League.
But the challenge for the Knights is on.
Here’s hoping it works out.