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Intense scrutiny played part in ditching Ponga's halves shift

Nathan Brown has conceded Kalyn Ponga's natural game is best suited at fullback and hinted that intense media scrutiny played a role in abandoning Newcastle's six-month playmaking shake up.

Ponga returns to the Knights' No.1 for Sunday's Alex McKinnon Cup clash with the Dragons having been slated for a halves switch since the start of pre-season last November.

His three games at five-eighth alongside Mitchell Pearce produced underwhelming results as the Knights returned one win, with Ponga's game-breaking ability largely kept under wraps in losses to Canberra and Penrith.

With one try assist, no line breaks and 10 tackle busts well down on his award-winning 2018 numbers of 11 try assists, 12 line breaks and 140 tackle breaks (an NRL best of seven per game), Ponga resumes at fullback in a bid to ease responsibility on one of the game's most watched men.

The 21-year-old will retain the goalkicking duties despite sharpshooting ex-Warrior Mason Lino coming into the halves for his Knights debut.

"Kalyn's good probably wherever he plays," Brown said on Saturday.

Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga.
Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga. ©Shane Myers/NRL Photos

"He was great at lock for Queensland. He's played good for us at five-eighth.

"He's played great at fullback and sometimes it's what suits your team. The one thing we probably worked out over the course of the first few trials and three games is that maybe Kalyn does suit our team at this stage with the personnel we've got at fullback.

"We'll put him back there and I'm sure that will free him up a little bit and take a little bit of responsibility off him and allow him to play a little bit more of his natural game. Which is probably going to suit him with where he's at for his age and experience at the moment."

Brown understands the immense interest in Ponga's positional switch, but says he wasn't entirely prepared for the impact such scrutiny had on his team and last year's RLPA Players’ Champion.

"I probably underestimated the amount of scrutiny KP would get to be honest," Brown said.

"He's an exceptional talent but we've seen so many people change position in that same role from five-eighth to fullback. Put it in the big picture of what he achieved in year one, you're probably going to get a little bit of attention.

"But you tend to think that after a few weeks these things die. Something else happens, someone else does something or something else takes away from it.

Knights playmaker Mason Lino.
Knights playmaker Mason Lino. ©Shane Myers/NRL Photos

"But in KP's case it was very, very scrutinised, and it's just probably in the best interest of KP and all of us playing fullback it might be the right thing for us."

Brown expects Lino's skills as "more of a natural half" to take pressure off both Ponga and Pearce while Connor Watson pushes to return from a knee injury next week.

Big man Daniel Saifiti is a confirmed starter from the bench against the Dragons after coming through Saturday's captains run unscathed.

A first-round knee injury had sparked fears Saifiti's season could be over after just 23 minutes, before he was eventually diagnosed with low grade medial ligament damage.

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