Kalyn Ponga (WFB/(HLF?)): NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS

Hype train maintenance check…

In roughly 25% of teams and being hyped by some other outlets, we thought it time to do a deep dive on Kalyn Ponga to see if he is worth the hype.

Probably the hardest part of this is deciding on a starting point, because there is no clear right answer. When projecting Ponga, many of us at the Amateurs had the first instinct to start with the 4x matches in the #6 jersey alongside Mitchell Pearce in 2018/19. When you take into account Ponga will not be kicking goals thanks to the presence of Jackson Hastings, it places him at a starting point of 29 points per game. Not great reading.

In the recent Talking League Podcast (found on all major platforms) around the Newcastle Knights they pose an alternate starting point, which is to start with his 2022 80 minute fullback performances, and then modify the stats to better suit a likely output for a half. They landed projecting him in the 48-50 point range, which I believe needs a bit of a hype train maintenance check, so I will do a variation of this, but I do actually think it makes more sense to start here in lieu of the first option and here is why…

Rounds 1-3, 2019 was almost 4 full seasons ago when Ponga was only 21 years old. We have seen several examples of players “growing” in the past in their game. A few recent examples include Isaah Yeo, Joseph Tapine and Dylan Brown. Ponga now is almost 25, and has increased his weight significantly, all of which should help with his power and durability, which can only stand him in good stead for his move to the halves in 2023.

Instead of only looking at 2022, I am going to also include the 2020 stats to broaden the sample size. Across this 27 game sample, Ponga averaged 48.3 when you remove the goal kicking responsibilities. Here are some key stats I think are likely to change in the halves…

CURRENTPROJECTEDPTS IMPACT
TACKLES3.313.3+10
MISSED TACKLES1.63.6-4
TURNOVER TACKLES11%30%+0.8
RUN METRES177105-7.2
TACKLE BUSTS5.63.6-4
KICK METRES5888+1
TOTAL POINTS IMPACT-3.4
RUN METRES MODELLED OFF ADAM DOUEIHI BUT HIGHER TACKLE BUSTS AWARDED TO PONGA DUE TO STYLE

Based on this projection, this would put Ponga at 44.9 fantasy points per game. Now, there is some room for upward movement on the tackles, but 13.3 tackles per game is about what Ben Hunt did last year so we don’t want to go too crazy inflating the numbers.

We have also left Ponga at the 48% try scoring rate, which is frankly probably a bit higher than we are comfortable with, but we do not want to go crazy deducting points. A much more sustainable 30-35% try rate would see Ponga drop to around 43.5 points per game.

To do a sanity check on this projection, I want to take a look at some comparable players…

Another fullback who moved to five-eighth was Cody Walker. Different style of player in some ways, but I am sure we can all agree a pretty good comparison. Walker in his 2020/2022 seasons at half playing full games averaged 40.8, despite registering 5 tackles per game more than we have listed for Ponga, and kicking for about 40 metres per game more. Interestingly, he also has a 48% try scoring rate (in a much better side), so we can let the high try scoring rate for Ponga fly through to the keeper and hope for the best. He does run for 20 metres per game less, and busts about 1 tackle per game less, which is the -4 difference between our ballpark projection for Ponga at 44.9 and his average of 40.8.

We actually touched on Doueihi earlier too, who is a similar style of player to Ponga and has been an outside back in his time. Doueihi cranked out a 60.4 average in his halves starts in 2022 (nothing in 2020), but registered 12 points more than a realistic Ponga projection between in play kicking and goal kicking. That pushes his 60.4 down to 48.4, with a whopping 21 tackles per game. This probably represents the upside for Ponga, but physically in his frame Ponga is not Doueihi, and much closer to Walker and our next guy.

Finally, a quick look at former fullback Jahrome Hughes, who averages 47.4 across 2020/22 in the halves, with a 58%??!!! try scoring rate. He also pumps out about 4 extra points per game in kicking stats, with a similar base to where we project Ponga. It is a similar story for Jack Wighton, who averages 47.1 with an additional 7 points in kicking base and about 20 tackles per game, which we aren’t sure that Ponga has the frame to sustain game in/out.

So, in short, what do we expect from Ponga at the Amateurs?

To bring his natural running, attacking, style to compliment Hastings, while chipping in 80-100 kick metres per game. To be a bog average half in defense, and not be a huge liability. This will likely see him net an average of 40.5 on the “low” end (Walker/Wighton), more likely in the Jahrome Hughes 43.5 points per game mould, with an upside of around 48.5 if he manages to put it all together and land in the Adam Doueihi mould of attacking stats.

He starts the year priced at $532K, which means a BE of approximately 37.

With an awkward bye in round 10, a likely appearance in Origin, a team destined for the bottom 4, and a storied injury history, we are happy to let this one go through to the keeper and suffer the consequences if he lands on the top end and has the 10+ points value. More than likely, he has some value and rises to $620k-$630k or so (90k-100k in rises) before plateauing. This doesn’t quite meet our criteria for a “buy”, but we can see the appeal.

We won’t go so far as to label him as a full blown trap, but it is definitely a caution/temper expectation, and we suggest you consider going to a cheapie and upgrading elsewhere.

AMATEUR MARK