Ponga return eases pressure on Pearce to carry Knights
Newcastle coach Nathan Brown cannot wait to have both his star players Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga back on the field together on Friday night, realising the full potential as a duo for the side.
Ponga will be given until the last minute before the North Queensland clash to get over a niggling hamstring injury. Pearce returned from his pectoral tear a fortnight ago, leading the club to back-to-back wins.
The Knights have struggled without their marquee halfback.
From the nine games Pearce has played, the Knights have won six. In their other nine matches, they have been victorious only twice.
"As bad it as it has been to have them both out - Mitchell for a long period, and KP for a short period - you hope that the side can learn," Brown said
"And this combination will keep improving, with Mitch watching KP and how he likes to get the ball in different situations over the 12-week period."
Hooker Danny Levi has noticed a big difference to team harmony since the return of his skipper.
"He just brings so much more organisation and just having him out there just motivates the boys," Levi said.
"Everyone feels more confident, sometimes he doesn't even have to do much but he brings so much confidence to the boys and brings the best out of everyone.
"We all knew he was a good player, but didn't know how good he was - you can see how much of a difference he makes when he is out there."
While Pearce himself acknowledged the wins this season have come from behind - with or without the team relying too heavily on the star play playmaker.
He acknowledged one of his main roles is about giving his junior teammates belief - off and on the field as a senior player.
"That's a skill in itself, being composed and a bit of resilience as a team," Pearce said.
"It's nice to know that you can win from behind and all of our wins have come from behind, so it would be good to be in front and close the game out."
Pearce will come up against his old Origin halves rival in Johnathan Thurston, for what will most likely be the last time they oppose each other.
"It's always super hard coming up against Johnathan Thurston, it's his last season and it's been a privilege to play against a guy of that quality," he said.
"He has gotten over me plenty of times, and he's a brilliant player, so I am looking forward to the challenge this week - both teams are desperate for a win."
While many have questioned the Cowboys halfback's performances, Brown is wary, saying even below his best he can still be a very dangerous player.
"I know a lot has been made of JT's form, and he has made a bit of a deal about it himself," Brown said.
"But for as bad as he, or everyone, says he is going, he is still fourth on the try assist list in the competition - so he's not doing too bad."
The Knights depart for Townsville on Wednesday with an extended squad of 20, with Nick Meaney travelling as a back-up from Ponga - who rolled his ankle at training on Tuesday, but it is not expected to be an issue. Sione Mata'utia is also named to make his return.