Ponga and Pearce racing clock to take on Warriors
Kalyn Ponga is hoping Mitchell Pearce recovers from a thigh injury in time to play in Newcastle's match against the Warriors on Friday night so the pair can continue to build their combination ahead of next season.
Pearce failed to finish last week's 25-10 loss to Wests Tigers, while Ponga is also battling a nagging ankle injury.
With Pearce having missed nine matches earlier this season after tearing a pectoral muscle and Ponga suffering a torn hamstring in the round 16 clash with Canterbury, the Knights star 2018 recruits have not played together as often as they had hoped.
Ponga had his first training session with the team since the Bulldogs clash on Monday but Pearce was unable to take part in the session and five-eighth Connor Watson is rated little hope of making the trip to Auckland after missing the Tigers match last Friday night.
"It does suck that I haven't been able to train with the boys and vice-versa – other people haven't been able to train as well," Ponga said.
"It's hard to build combinations and get a feel for how everyone else plays, and a lot of boys aren't training because of injury as well, which isn't ideal as well but you just do the best you can."
Knights coach Nathan Brown remains optimistic that Pearce will play against the Warriors and Ponga said the 29-year-old former NSW Origin halfback had a significant influence on Newcastle's fortunes.
"He is one of those sort of players who even at training just somehow has the knack to make other people better," Ponga said. "I think that is a true credit to how good he is.
"I think early on I didn't really know how to take him, he is a different character but he has had a lot of influence on myself and the other boys. He is a very smart football player and if I want to get better I need to pick his brains.
"It is not only footy but he also talks about well-being and health, and all of that sort of stuff as well, which is pretty interesting."
Brown said Pearce and Ponga would be named in his 21-man squad on Tuesday but Watson will miss the Warriors clash.
"Him and Mitchell together have played five times for four wins and the other game Connor came off against the Roosters very early so we haven't had an opportunity to watch all of them together," Brown said.
"Kalyn actually did a little bit of training today with the team. That is the first time he has trained with the team for five or six weeks. Mitchell didn't train but we are hopeful of him playing."
If Pearce is ruled out, Brown said he would be reluctant to move Ponga to the halves as his preferred position is fullback but he indicated that Brock Lamb is unlikely to be recalled and may not play NRL for the Knights again.
"There are couple of players we need to have conversations with," Brown said. "The last indication we got was that Brock was definitely going to leave the club. Where that is at the minute I don't know."
Interchange forward Josh King failed suffered a hamstring injury at training on Monday and failed to finish the session but he is expected to be named for the match against the Warriors.