‘Too quiet’: League greats weigh in over Kalyn Ponga captaincy, Jake Clifford’s future after Storm loss

The fallout from Newcastle’s heavy defeat at the hands of Melbourne on Sunday has continued, with question marks surfacing over Kalyn Ponga as Knights captain. 

A week after Adam O’Brien was forced to apologise to fans following a loss to the Eels, Newcastle backed it up with a 50-2 loss to the Storm on Sunday, as the competition heavyweights ran riot at McDonald Jones Stadium.

The loss has put the Knights in 16th spot on the NRL ladder after eight rounds, with a shock win from Trent Barrett’s Bulldogs moving them up to 15th. 

Ponga ran for a team-high 140 metres and broke seven tackles in the loss, but had very little to say in the post-match press conference and doesn’t appear to be rallying his troops in recent weeks in the face of huge losses.

But according to NRL legend Cameron Smith, the best way Ponga can lead his side is to do so by example, rather than with his words.

“He’s relatively new to that position and he is a young man, but he has been in the game for some time,” he said on SEN Breakfast With Vossy and Brandy. 

“He’s going to be constantly learning – some guys, it doesn’t come naturally to them. It’s a big role, there’s been a lot of talk around him in the first four weeks of the competition around his future and whether he was going or staying.

“I’d like to think they made the right decision by making him captain – he’s just now got to worry about playing football and not let the leadership aspect of it weigh him down.

“The most important thing for a leader or captain is to go out and play well on the weekend. That really is what it’s all about, you don’t need to worry about all the other stuff going on as far as meetings, media and all this stuff.

“His main job is to go play well on the weekend – he played well the other week against the Dragons – but outside of that he has been quiet and lacking that input that you need from a guy of his quality.”

Newcastle have now lost six games on the trot and after their last two defeats, it would be hard to see them featuring in finals footy this September.

Knights great Matty Johns admitted he was concerned over their halves and the depth in creative positions, after halfback Jake Clifford was hooked against Melbourne.

“Jake is a bit like Luke Brooks and some of those other guys – there is a sensitivity there which makes yesterday so much more difficult for him and so much more difficult for next week,” he said.

“I was told that the NSW Cup got a lot of injuries yesterday, so Newcastle are down to the bare bones.

“What do you do with the halves? I don’t know. We just haven’t got the depth in those creative positions – I don’t know what Adam does next week with that.

“The easiest thing is to say they need to change, but I don’t know who they change with.”

Newcastle completed at just 55 per-cent on Sunday afternoon and also gave away seven penalties, allowing the Storm to dictate the contest with ease.

Johns was disappointed and believes despite the injuries, his former side should be performing a lot better.

“There is a complete lack of resilience,” he said.

“I thought those days were kind of gone and we had taken that next step – but last week against Parramatta as soon as something went wrong, everything collapsed and yesterday was even worse.

“Although they might have a few out, yesterday just some of the basic fundamental skills (were lacking) and so many unforced errors.

“If there was a pass or ball on the ground, they would come up with it most of the time.

“It was a bad one.”

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