Kalyn Ponga can do just about anything on a footy field with finesse — except celebrate tries, as it turns out.
The electric Knights fullback was involved in everything in his side’s elimination final loss to Parramatta, including a try celebration that didn’t go quite to plan.
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After winger Hymel Hunt crossed the chalk for the Knights’ second four-pointer, the Novocastrians huddled around their tryscorer. In a move reminiscent of Aaron Woods’ similarly wrong-footed try celebration in the 2016 Origin series, Ponga ran at the cluster from a distance but toppled over and hit the turf.
The former Cowboy was on his feet again quickly, and it was just as well — Ponga was easily the most gallant of the Knights on Sunday afternoon.
He put his stamp on the game early by sending Enari Tuala over on the left wing when the game was barely a minute old.
It was a pearler of a Ponga pass that gave Tuala his hat trick in the second stanza. The Origin fullback cut two of his teammates out to hit his winger square in the breadbasket and hoist the Knights right back into the contest.
Ponga was influential without ball in hand, as well. He and best buddy Connor Watson stopped a certain try in the 73rd minute when they wrapped Bryce Cartwright up as he stretched out to score.
Coach Adam O’Brien lauded Ponga’s performance in his post-match press conference.
“I thought he was great, right from the start. I thought he was really sharp with the footy,” he said of his fullback.
Ponga’s efforts weren’t enough to steal victory from the Eels, who put the final nail in the coffin with a penalty try in the dying minutes.
For the second year running, the Knights have bowed out in the first week of the finals.
“I’m really disappointed. I’ve got a shattered dressing room. They fought so hard and I’m really proud of them,” O’Brien said.
“Field position cost us in the end. We just were camped down our own end.”
O’Brien was left to rue the five minutes before halftime, when the Knights leaked a game-defining pair of tries.
“We’d like to have the five minutes before halftime back again. We just switched off mentally and it cost us a couple of tries,” he said.