Ponga pulls the strings as Knights bounce back to thump Titans

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Five-eighth Kalyn Ponga has bounced back to form and inspired Newcastle to a 46-26 win over Gold Coast that pushes his case for State of Origin selection and silences critics of the Knights’ bye-week holiday schedule.

Ponga was completely outgunned in his first full game at No.6 two weeks ago in a performance that raised serious concerns about his ability to compete in the defensive front line on his shift from fullback.

But while his teammates shipped out to Bali, Fiji, Tasmania and beyond during Newcastle’s round-10 break — copping plenty of media criticism — Ponga spent the bye putting in extra work at training to prove he could return to his best after his concussion problems.

The extra reps paid off in a big way at McDonald Jones Stadium, with Ponga enjoying his best game for the Knights in recent memory to help them to a first win since round six.

The Titans had the better of a scrappy opening half but Ponga put the Knights back on level terms at the break when he threaded the ball through the line with a grubber kick for Tyson Frizell in the final seconds of the first half.

He lifted his intensity after the break, first sending former Titan Greg Marzhew over with a cutout pass and then scything past Tanah Boyd and Jojo Fifita on a line break that set up Bradman Best.

Kalyn Ponga is jostling with Reece Walsh for the Maroons’ fullback spot.Credit: Getty

The Best try restored the Knights’ lead but Ponga was not yet done. He burst down the left flank on another line break only three minutes later and then dummied past Jayden Campbell to score a try of his own.

Newcastle were well and truly on the front foot by that point and did not surrender their advantage.

Ponga’s performance would not have gone unnoticed by Queensland coach Billy Slater, who is set to choose between incumbent Maroon Ponga and Brisbane star Reece Walsh to fill the fullback spot in Origin 1.

Best shrugged off criticism of his trip to Bali by pouncing on a Titans error in the in-goal to grab a second try in the final five minutes.

Titans teammates celebrate David Fifita’s try.Credit: Getty

Titans second-rower David Fifita was the best of a beaten bunch, scoring two tries to push his own Origin case which is fast becoming irresistible.

He crashed past Frizell and Lachie Miller for a try that opened the Titans’ account and then gave Gold Coast a late sniff by belting away on a 95-metre line break to clinch a sixth career double.

But it was too late for the Titans, who were left to rue taking poor fifth-tackle options early in the game.

Frizell was placed on report for entering a tackle late to hit Tino Fa’asuamaleaui’s legs but appears unlikely to face suspension given Parramatta’s Junior Paulo received a fine for a similar offence earlier in the weekend.

Newcastle recruit Adam Elliott made an incident-free return from the groin injury he suffered in round one, making 31 tackles.

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