Eighth Immortal Andrew Johns says Newcastle prodigy Kalyn Ponga “hasn’t evolved his game” and is in danger of falling short of the bright future the NRL world expects of the 22-year-old.
Widely considered the heir to the fullback’s throne, Ponga has struggled in recent weeks in a patchy run of form for the Knights.
Just weeks ago against Manly, NRL guru Phil Gould didn’t mince his words when slammed Ponga’s one-dimensional attack, claiming “he had done nothing” all game.
Having signed a new lucrative $4.5 million contract to keep him in Newcastle for the next four years, the NRL spotlight will be turned up on the youngster now more than ever.
In a players’ poll released this week, Roosters superstar James Tedesco and Manly’s Tom Trbojevic were judged to be the best fullbacks going in the game.
Johns argued Ponga needed to revamp his game, and fast, if he ever wants to be held in the same regard as an NRL fullback.
“I think Tedesco and Turbo have totally gone to another level,” Johns told Wide World of Sports’ Freddy and the Eighth. “I think Kalyn needs to expand on the way he plays.
“Teams do so much homework on the best players so I think you have to evolve the way you play, and I think Kalyn maybe hasn’t evolved his game.
“The last couple of weeks especially he’s been quiet.
“It might be a by-product of the way the Knights’ attack has gone a little bit stale and misfiring.
“But you look at the other two, Tedesco and Turbo, I don’t know how but they keep improving.”
NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler had nothing but praise for both Tedesco and Trbojevic, a deadly duo he’s had the luxury of having in his Origin camp.
He was in awe of their work ethic on the park, and urged Ponga to up his output and his attitude.
“They compete on every play,” Fittler said.
“You notice when you watch them play and their teams play, sometimes your side looks like it’s just getting into gear. What Teddy and Turbo do – particularly Teddy – he just keep challenging.
“He keeps probing around dummy half and he’ll skip across field. He doesn’t just stick to what you perceive as a game plan because his game plan is just to attack the defence, and that’s what he does all the time.
“He’s forever at them, and I don’t see Kalyn doing that. Kalyn’s just not at them all the time, and those two other boys are just relentless.”