Will Kalyn Ponga now follow suit and hop codes after winning The Players’ Champion award?
The question arises naturally, since Ponga is the youngest player to ever win the award.
He supplanted Jarryd Hayne, who was 21 years old when he won the award in 2009 with 85 games under his belt for the Parramatta Eels.
Ponga is 20 and has only 29 games under his name, but he beat out Damien Cook, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Valentine Holmes and Cameron Munster.
Topping that list is quite remarkable, especially considering that Ponga plays for the Newcastle Knights. The Knights finished the Telstra 2018 NRL Premiership competition in 11th with a losing record that would seem to indicate that Ponga did not have the degree of support that would seem to lead toward a prestigious award.
Peer recognition is one of the sincerest forms of recognition, as it does not rely on fickle fans, biased journos or coaches with an agenda to push.
The Players’ Champion award was revamped for the 2018 season following criticism over the previous 3-2-1 voting system that last year saw the award going to James Tedesco, when many felt that Cameron Smith was the more deserving player.
This year, the voting system found the players given a two-week window to vote for one player from a field of four from each club.
“To be voted by your peers as the players they liked during the season is a very high honour,” Ponga said. “I just wanted to get through my first year of NRL. I don’t usually get nervous but (Johnathan Thurston) touched on it – this award is pretty huge.”
Ponga heads the list of the players’ Dream Team. He was the only Knight selected for one of the 13. The Sharks contributed two, as did the Melbourne Storm.
Ponga hopes, no doubt, that team honours follow and he expressed optimism that some of the players coming to Newcastle next season should improve the club’s fortunes.