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Knights star Kalyn Ponga.

Expect the unexpected. That is the message brilliant Newcastle and Queensland playmaker Kalyn Ponga has for NRL fans wondering how the new-look Knights will roll in 2019.

His own switch from fullback to five-eighth, and the arrival of a host of new players including David Klemmer, Tim Glasby, Jesse Ramien, Edrick Lee, James Gavet, Mason Lino and Kurt Mann has heightened excitement levels among Hunter punters.

Ponga will have his first hit-out for 2019 when he represents Maori All Stars against their Indigenous counterparts in Melbourne on February 15, before returning to Newcastle to prepare for a pre-season trial against Cronulla at Maitland Sportsground on March 2.

The Knights and Sharks will meet again at McDonald Jones Stadium on March 15 in the opening round of the Telstra Premiership.

"I think the standards are definitely higher," Ponga said on Friday, when asked about Newcastle's pre-season training performance amid the raised expectations of their supporters.

"Everyone's competing, and everyone's eager to play.

"Obviously we've got the new players in there, and the experience and leadership that they bring. I've definitely felt it but I don't know what to expect, really.

"I'm just excited to see what they can do, and that first trial will give us an indication.

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"Obviously the Sharks are a tough team, and they have been for a few years now, so we know what to expect from them.

"But then again, it's trials, so it will give us an indication of where we are and it will be good to see where we are compared to them, then we can work on things between then and the first round."

The emergence of 20-year-old Ponga as one of the NRL's brightest young stars was the highlight of Newcastle's 2018 campaign.

His dazzling array of skills led to Queensland Origin selection, he was crowned NRL Players' Champion, finished second behind Dally M Medallist Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and won the Danny Buderus Medal as Newcastle's Player of the Year.

After a spectacular Origin debut for Queensland in Game Two in Sydney last year, Ponga is expected to be a fixture for the Maroons for the foreseeable future but for now he is keeping his mind on his day job in Newcastle.

"I haven't actually thought about rep opportunities, or anything like that," he said.

"I'm focusing on the Knights and a new challenge of playing in the halves so I've got to focus on that before anything else."

Ponga said his Maori father, Andre, was proud of him for representing that part of his heritage in the All Stars game at AAMI Park next week.

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"He's always wanted me to connect to my culture, so having this opportunity to do that is pretty big for the family," he said.

"That's probably the most exciting part about it. I'm going into that camp obviously knowing a little bit, but I'm sure they'll look after me and teach me more about where I'm from and my culture so I'm looking forward to putting that jersey on.

"It should be a great contest – two cultures colliding – and it's a concept this year where both teams are going to be proud to be out there, so it should be a close game."

He expects both teams to be emotionally charged, especially during the pre-game Maori Haka and Indigenous team's war cry.

"I'll be in there, giving it my best," he said.

"I've done a haka before, when I was young, so it will be interesting to see how I go."

Ponga and the Knights took time out from their training schedule on Friday to mingle with sponsors and supporters at the club's corporate golf day at Nelson Bay.

As a former New Zealand junior golf champion, who as a 12-year-old played off a handicap of nine, Ponga was a prized playing partner.

"I'm actually no good," he laughed.

"I don't know why people think I'm so good."

Acknowledgement of Country

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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