Improving in new role but more to work on, says Ponga

Newcastle five-eighth Kalyn Ponga put in a polished showing in a 40-minute hit-out against the Dragons but knows he still has plenty to work on in his migration from the No.1 jersey to the No.6.

Ponga's indifferent showing at five-eighth for the New Zealand Maori a week earlier was arguably given too much weight by critics and the signs were much better back among the players he has trained alongside the whole off-season.

The Knights won the first half 10-6 before both coaches rested the majority of top squad players, and a hallmark for Newcastle was the strength and depth of a pack that has welcomed rep stars David Klemmer and Tim Glasby, and the positive combination between Ponga and Mitch Pearce in the halves along with fullback Connor Watson and hooker Danny Levi.

Ponga clearly is still adjusting to the reduced space in the halves, knowing when to play both sides of the ruck (he attacked almost exclusively on the left side), and despite a willingness and ability to make tackles, he is still getting there in terms of defensive communication in the new position.

The 20-year-old set up his team's first try with a beautiful short ball to left-edge partner in crime Lachlan Fitzgibbon and had a hand in another, combining with Pearce on the left to put Edrick Lee over in the corner.

He had some precise kicks, some dangerous runs and plenty of threatening passes.

Knights star Kalyn Ponga.
Knights star Kalyn Ponga. ©NRL Photos

"It was a good first hit-out; [there were] a few errors and kicking into that breeze was pretty hard but I thought all in all we were pretty good," Ponga said.

"That [combination with Pearce] felt really good out there. You can train and what not but playing is a different story. It's only our first game together but it definitely felt good."

In one of the most remarkable plays of the half, Ponga launched an attacking bomb that, off the boot, looked like it would land perfectly just out from the Dragons' try-line in the corner. Instead it was caught in the teeth of a howling Wollongong breeze and, at the apex of its flight, turned at a virtual right angle and soared back towards Newcastle's line.

Ponga was forced to run back and retrieve his own bomb before jinking the defence and stabbing in another well-weighted kick that found the turf and pinned the Dragons against their own line.

"That was unbelievable, I'll have to watch it back!" Ponga laughed.

"I didn't realise how strong the breeze was. Despite the conditions and that being a disadvantage I thought [our kicking] was pretty good."

Kicking is something he is keen to work on as the season progresses.

"I'll try to, I think any time I can take pressure off Pearcey and help the team [is good], I've just got to work on it a bit more," he said.

"I'm still getting used to picking my time when to kick but I want to, I want to step up."

His defence was mostly sound ("I didn't get scored on so that's good!") and he acknowledged he probably tried a bit too much when coming up with an early error or too.

The former Cowboy also agreed with his coach's feedback that he needs to be able to work the right side as well as the left, with Nathan Brown and Ponga acknowledging new gun centre Jesse Ramien needs far more quality early ball in his hands on the right flank.

"That's probably just me being lazy. I didn't even think about that, I probably should look to roam around," Ponga said.

"The way our sets were rolling I sort of just planted myself there but I know there's situations where I'll go to the other side."