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'Embarrassing': Joey fumes over Knights keeping injured Ponga on the park as Roosters rally to win nail-biter

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11th April, 2024
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Kalyn Ponga showed he was tough but the Knights didn’t display too much intelligence in allowing him to remain on the field when he was clearly injured and incapacitated at McDonald Jones Stadium on Thursday night. 

The Newcastle star was a passenger after injuring his hip midway through the first half but coach Adam O’Brien kept Ponga on the park and the Roosters capitalised to surge to the lead and went on to win a 22-20 cliffhanger. 

Ponga was better but still below his best in the second half but the Roosters powered to victory to consign the Knights to their fourth loss from six starts in 2024.

The Roosters were written off as underdogs after going into the game without captain James Tedesco and Sam Walker due to head knocks and Dominic Young for dishing one out with a high tackle but they improved to a 3-3 record after avoiding a third straight defeat.

‘It’s embarrassing’: Joey fumes over Ponga playing on

Knights Immortal Andrew Johns couldn’t believe Newcastle let Ponga remain in the contest when he was clearly hampered by his hip.

“Surely someone has to make the decision about Kalyn Ponga and get him off the field,” Johns fumed on Nine commentary. “He can’t get off the ground (to make a tackle).

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“The decision has to be taken away from the player.”

Ponga barely touched the ball in attack and was a liability in defence but the Knights refused to replace him, hoping he could get to the half-time break without costing his team too much.

He improved in the second half after receiving treatment during the break but was still not his usual effective self and the damage had been done on the scoreboard which ultimately proved decisive.

“He’s very sore. It was a remarkable job what he’s done for us. He was brave, tough. No one could ever question that kid’s toughness. I’m amazed,” O’Brien said.

“I was thinking please battle on. I kept a close eye on him and we knew the kicking, we had to change the kick plan a little bit. He wasn’t able to do any of the general play kicking.

“I could see he was in some discomfort and, speaking to the medical people on the sideline, they said we’ll give it a crack at half-time to try to get it going but I can tell now by his face, he’s pale, he’s in a lot of pain.

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“He’s experienced. He knows what he’s capable of so I do leave it a bit up to him.”

His opposite number, Joey Manu, was outstanding for the Roosters, deputising in the role with Tedesco out, registering a huge tally of 349 running metres, including 145 post-contact and 140 from kick returns, while creating a couple of tries and breaking 11 tackles.

Roosters coach Trent Robinson was not surprised and didn’t lump too much praise on Manu in the post-match media conference when prompted, perhaps not wanting to reignite the debate over who should be his permanent fullback.

Hot and cold night for both teams

The Roosters were dreadful in the early stages, with Jackson Hastings stepping over from close range through some paper-thin defence.

After a dopey penalty was conceded in possession by Angus Crichton when he ran through the markers while getting back onside, the Roosters sunk even lower when they failed to do a line drop-out quickly enough to go 8-0 down. 

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The Roosters scored from their first venture into the home side’s red zone when Manu lobbing a precision pass for Daniel Tupou to cross the stripe in the corner. 

Ponga collided with the big Tongan as he scored and initially there were fears he had copped a head knock but it was from the resulting kick-off where he damaged his hip, immediately wincing in pain after putting boot to ball. 

Roosters hooker Brandon Smith and Manu combined to put Luke Keary into space and Victor Radley backed up to put the visitors in front.

And with Ponga unable to get up after making a tackle on the half-hour mark, Smith strolled through the gigantic gap at marker to make it 16-8.

Newcastle managed to cut the deficit to two points by half-time when English forward Kai Pearce-Paul pierced poor defence to set up Bradman Best. 

“We ended up getting some momentum there to get us to a good half-time score,” Robinson said.

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The Roosters suffered a setback when interchange forward Sitili Tupouniua had to be replaced after he produced a bell-ringer hit on Dane Gagai which forced the ball free only for referee Gerard Sutton to rule the play null and void because the penalty on the previous play had to be reviewed for possible foul play.

Newcastle thought they’d hit the front in the 58th minute when Jack Cogger spun the ball wide for Gagai to touch down just inside the right cornerpost but Keary was taken out by a decoy runner so the Bunker kyboshed the try.

Pearce-Paul continued making an impact in his impressive first season in the NRL when he crunched Lindsay Collins close to the try line to force the ball free. The Roosters challenged the knock-on ruling because Collins was clocked in the face by Jacob Saifiti over the top but they did not get a penalty because it happened after he’d lost the ball.

“Lindsay Collins knocks the ball on. We acknowledge there’s some slight contact although it does not affect the knock-on. Challenge unsuccessful,” was Bunker official Chris Butler’s verdict.

Trent Robinson was furious after the ruling was made, clearly calling “bullshit” on the play.

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Saifiti will probably get charged by the match review committee on Friday morning but it will be of little comfort to the Roosters who got no benefit from his indiscretion when it mattered.

On the back of a Radley break created by prop Terrell May, Tupou manoeuvred his way over for his second four-pointer 15 minutes from time and the sideline conversion from Joseph Suaalii made it 22-14.

Bench utility Phoenix Crossland, who should have been on the field much earlier when Ponga was a passenger, set up a try to Adam Elliott to bring the Knights within two points with three minutes left but the Roosters were able to hold on by the skin of their rare proverbial teeth.

It was the Roosters’ 13th win in their past 15 encounters with Newcastle while for the Knights, it continued their winless record in Thursday night matches on home turf.

The player wearing the No.3 jersey for the Roosters was booed as he led his team out onto the field. The player was celebrating his 300th NRL match but it was two more than he should have been allowed after recently being granted permission to return despite being ordered to financially compensate his former wife by a civil court after being found guilty of sexual assault allegations.

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