Knights director of football Peter Parr has challenged Kalyn Ponga to stand up and own the team and wants to turn the Newcastle club into an NRL powerhouse again.
In a wide-ranging interview with Sky Sports Radio’s The Big Sports BreakfastParr wants to emulate what he did at the Cowboys and restore the Knights as one of the best clubs in the game.
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TIME FOR PONGA TO OWN IT
The criticism of Knights skipper Kalyn Ponga is that he has been unable to emulate his stunning form for Queensland at Origin level and transfer that to Newcastle on a consistent basis.
Parr wants his captain to take on more ownership of his own performances and that of the team in 2023 and beyond.
“I think that is something that Kalyn is well aware of,” Parr said on The Big Sports Breakfast.
“His form for Queensland is impeccable and he plays those games like he wants it more than any other game he has played in.
“I think when you watch someone like James Tedesco, he plays like that every weekend.
“I think that is where Kalyn needs to get to. I think that is where Kalyn would like to get to.
“I know he has a great desire to get more consistency in his footy. He knows what he is capable of and he also understands that he hasn’t done it on a consistent basis at club level.
“I think he is getting to the stage of his career where he needs to start owning this footy team.
“It has got to be his team a bit like Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Andrew Johns, Darren Lockyer, they all owned the team.
“I think that is where Kalyn has got to get to. He is still only a young man, but I think now he is getting to that stage of his career.”
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RECRUITING A FULLBACK TO ALLOW PONGA FIVE-EIGHTH SWITCH
Ponga is reportedly being considered for a positional switch to five-eighth in 2023 to get his hands on the ball more and drive the Knights’ attack.
However, Parr is not a fan of weakening the fullback position to improve the halves, so the club is on the lookout for a No.1 to give coach Adam O’Brien options in both positions.
“I think Adam O’Brien would like to have the option of putting Kalyn into the halves,” Parr said.
“There seems to be a lot more speculation about that outside of the club than inside.
“I think ultimately Kalyn and Adam and the coaching staff will decide where Kalyn plays, but if we could snag a fullback I think that would give Adam some options to consider.
“At the moment Kalyn is the only established fullback in the squad, so what we would like to do is potentially snag a fullback and then that would give Adam options of where he could play Kalyn and other players of course.”
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THE HASTINGS KLEMMER SWAP
One of the biggest off-season roster moves in the NRL was the swap deal that sent Knights prop David Klemmer to the Tigers and halfback Jackson Hastings the other way.
The Knights have been desperate to replace former skipper Mitchell Pearce with the No.7 jersey at a revolving door since his departure to Catalans ahead of the 2022 season.
Parr believes Hastings is the player the club needed to turn around their poor form in 2022.
“Yeah we are (happy) because halfbacks and particularly good halfbacks are hard to find,” Parr said.
“We felt we were well stocked in the middle forwards. Earlier in the year the club went out and purchased Jack Hetherington and Adam Elliott. If you put those guys with the Saifiti brothers and we have got a young forward Leo Thompson, who we have got a lot of time for.
“We thought we were well covered with middle forwards and there was no doubt we were lacking some expertise in the halves, so we thought it was a good fit for us.
“The Tigers were looking for someone to sure up their middle forward rotation, so I thought in the end it worked well for everyone and we are delighted with our end of the bargain and we think Jackson will have a big impact on our club.”
LONG WAY SHORT OF A POWERHOUSE
The Knights have not been an NRL powerhouse since Andrew Johns led the club to their last premiership in 2001.
Parr believes the club has a long way to go, but thinks they have the pieces in place to return to the top of the NRL mountain in the future.
“I think we are a long way short of being a powerhouse if I’m completely honest,” Parr said.
“I think we have got some really good building blocks in place. We have got a great community and a great junior network. We have got a good pathways system.
“But I think it is fair to say for a long period of time now the Knights have not been able to actually nail it and that is part of a lot of my role now is to try and set it up, so eventually it can be a powerhouse because there is a fair argument with a lot of people that it should be, given we are a one team town and all the resources available to us.”
MAKE OR BREAK YEAR FOR THE KNIGHTS TO REPAY FANS
The Knights made back-to-back finals appearances in 2020 and 2021, but saw their form drop off a cliff to finish 14th in 2022.
Parr believes the Knights have a crucial season in 2023 to repay the faith of their long-suffering fans and put some pride back in the jersey.
“I think 2023 is a really important year for the club because a couple of years before last season they were there or there abouts,” Parr said.
“Then we had a poor year in 2022. I think what we need to start doing is competing better against the better sides.
“Our record against top four and top eight teams is not great. We get a lot of great community support, but you can’t be complacent about that.
“At the end of the day people will start to run out of patience if they don’t see the team making some adjustments and improvements.
“I don’t think the Newcastle community by any stretch expect to turn up every week and watch a win, but they do have an expectation that they turn up and watch a team that will be enthusiastic and competitive and represent the DNA of the town .”
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RESTORING LOCAL TALENT NURSERY
One area the Knights have prided themselves on is developing local talent, but in recent years some of their best juniors have left for other NRL clubs.
Parr wants to create an environment where the best local players from Newcastle and the surrounding areas want to stay and represent the Knights.
“I think we have got to have a focus on local talent,” Parr said.
“This year our Jersey Flegg team were defeated in golden point in the grand final by Penrith.
“Our SG Ball side ran second. So our two major junior sides both had particularly good years.
“The key for any club is to try and hold onto your best local talent and not only to identify their playing ability, but to bring them through into an environment where they can learn and get educated and improve as people and as players and have an environment where they don’t want to leave.
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“We are a fertile area. A lot of people that don’t have the junior base of ours head to Newcastle because they think, if we don’t have it in our own backyard in Sydney, well it is only two hours up the road and there is a big market there.
“We do get a lot of competition, but we should embrace that and there is no doubt we should have a goal of keeping more of our local juniors.
“I grew up here, so I understand the importance of that. I was at a club (Cowboys) for 21 years that ran a lot of local juniors through their system, so it is a real goal of mine to provide as many opportunities as we can for young guys in Newcastle and the Hunter Region.
“It is just logical from my point of view and of course the real good ones you just can’t afford to lose any more.”