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Knights star Kalyn Ponga.

Kalyn Ponga insists he will handle the defensive workload of a switch to the halves and is confident that having his mentor Mitchell Pearce beside him will get the best out of his play.

The 20-year-old had a breakout season in 2018 at fullback for Newcastle and was the Knights' player of the year, took out The Players' Champion gong at the RLPA awards night and starred for Queensland in his State of Origin debut.

While a weapon from the back, Knights coach Nathan Brown believes Ponga can ignite the attack with the ball in his hands more often and in partnership with Pearce.

Ponga is set to switch from fullback to five-eighth in a direct swap with Connor Watson where he will be required to defend in the front line. He is not fazed by the defensive assignment in the least after fulfilling a similar role in the middle in his Origin debut, making 26 tackles to boot.

"I'll probably start there [at five-eighth] next season and we'll see how we go," he told

"In attack I think my role will be the same, and I'll probably have a bit more energy from not running so many metres.

The best of Kalyn Ponga's breakout 2018

"People are saying 'he will be in the front line' but I am not really fazed by the defensive part of it. I just want to build that combination between myself and my back-rower and if we are working as a unit I don't really care.

"You don't really know if you can do something until you do it. If you'd asked me at the beginning of the year if I could play the minutes I did in the middle in Origin I probably would have said 'there is no chance of me doing that', but I did it."

Ponga said a collaborative approach to football was a hallmark of halfback Pearce's play and a reason why he was confident the duo would work well in tandem in the halves.

Ponga: If I'm a dud I'll go back to fullback

"Pearcey has really influenced me a lot I reckon and had a massive influence on the season I had," Ponga said.

"He is really open to anything. He will ask me my opinion on things, and I have never really had that before, so we are bouncing ideas off each other and we are both learning together."

Ponga also learned plenty from Johnathan Thurston about the craft of halves play during his stint in North Queensland, but it was more a case of watching on with awe.

"Johnno was an influence but he is a bit different because he is so natural that he probably doesn't know what he is doing half the time," Ponga said.

"Obviously Johnno has got indicators… so when he sees this, he plays this… but everything he does is freaky."

Coaches Corner: The rise of Kalyn Ponga

Ponga said he was yet to do any regular training at five-eighth as he works his way back to top fitness from ankle surgery, and added there was a possibility he and Watson could swap roles if required.

Just playing alongside Watson and Pearce for an extended period will be a welcome change after the trio took the field together in just the opening three rounds of last season.

"We hardly played any footy together last season in the spine so building a combination will be the most important thing," Ponga said.

"My ankle is coming along well and I am ticking all the boxes so hopefully I will be training with the squad full-time and doing everything in three or four weeks.

"At the moment I am doing all my rehab and all the boring cardio stuff and exercises. It tests your patience, but you have to do it."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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