Under-fire Knights coach Adam O’Brien reveals why people think Kalyn Ponga DOESN’T CARE about footy after his pub toilet scandal – and admits his biggest mistake of a horror season
- Knights coach Adam O’Brien has defended fullback Kalyn Ponga under fire
- O’Brien insists the 24-year-old is determined to realize his obvious talent
- The coach also admitted that he has not been hard enough on the playing group
- The Knights sit 14th on the NRL ladder, with just six wins after 22 rounds
Knights coach Adam O’Brien has broken his silence and revealed why he believes football fans believe Kalyn Ponga doesn’t care about his career following last weekend’s pub toilet scandal.
O’Brien has also promised to install a tougher edge at the club in the off-season, with their dismal 2022 campaign giving rise to intense speculation about his future with the club.
Ponga, 24, has been a magnet for criticism, but O’Brien defended his full-back, who is co-captain and signed a monster five-year contract worth more than $5 million in April.
“It might come across that Kalyn might not care because of his relaxed nature and the way he talks, but behind the scenes I see how he behaves,” the coach told News Corp.
Under-fire Knights coach Adam O’Brien has admitted Kalyn Ponga may appear too relaxed in the shoes of a highly paid superstar captain
Ponga, 24, has been attracting unwanted headlines all week after he was caught up in a pub toilet cubicle saga last weekend in Newcastle’s CBD with teammate Kurt Mann
“We haven’t seen the best of his footy, it’s well and truly in front of him and he’s developing in a lot of areas that don’t always show in 80-minute games.”
O’Brien said the club needed to develop Ponga as a leader – and while he is disappointed by last weekend’s events in Newcastle’s CBD, he is reserving judgment until the NRL Integrity Unit completes its investigation into the matter.
Ahead of Sunday’s home game against the Raiders, O’Brien also admitted the standards need to be raised sooner rather than later.
Apart from the Ponga fiasco, David Klemmer was suspended for a week after abusing head coach Hayden Knowles on the pitch and this weekend fullbacks Bradman Best and Enari Tuala will play in the NSW Cup after missing a team bus last Sunday in Brisbane.
O’Brien also admitted to making a big mistake with the site this year.
“I have to drive tougher standards and get guys where I need them,” he said.
“What I’m disappointed in myself about is that I let comments about my nature soften me in some areas.
“I need to get back to myself a bit. I have to be who I am and be consistent with that and not chop and change, so the players don’t know what kind of coach they’re getting every day.’
He is confident he has enough talent in his 30-man squad to see the Knights far more competitive in 2023.
Ponga’s father Andre offered an explanation for the toilet saga, saying the teammates were in the cubicle together due to illness – it was met with cynicism by journalists and football fans.
Ponga is as good as any NRL back on his day but has so far failed to justify his monster annual salary of $1.2 million per season with the Knights
The focus will be on “nailing” pre-season in November – before O’Brien added that if Wests Tigers halfback Luke Brooks became available, his experience could be invaluable.
Anthony Milford will leave the club in a few weeks to join Wayne Bennett’s Dolphins, while Jake Clifford and Adam Clune have not taken their opportunities in the halves.
Better news for long-suffering Knights fans is that the appointment of Peter Parr as the club’s football manager is a shrewd move.
Parr will not accept poor standards and will drive a culture that desperately needs improvement.
After the clash between the Raiders at home this Sunday, the Knights take on the Titans and Sharks to see what has been a testing season on many levels.