NRL: Newcastle Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga confident ahead of Canberra Raiders clash
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NRL: Newcastle Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga confident ahead of Canberra Raiders clash

All Kalyn Ponga wants to do this year is own the Newcastle Knights No. 1 jersey.

It has taken just one game in Knights colours for the 19-year-old to be earmarked as the successor to Queensland Maroons fullback Billy Slater.

Kalyn Ponga is one of the brightest young stars in the NRL.

Kalyn Ponga is one of the brightest young stars in the NRL.

But Ponga is keeping his feet planted firmly on the ground leading into Newcastle's clash with the Canberra Raiders at Canberra Stadium on Sunday.

Rather than letting his mind drift towards following in the footsteps of Newcastle great Robbie O'Davis into a Maroon jersey, Ponga is focused on helping the steel city club out of the doldrums.

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He came to Newcastle with big expectations but the teenage prodigy - who is the NRL's youngest first choice goalkicker - is relishing the weight of responsibility on his shoulders.

"I spent the whole pre-season training in that position and tried to own it," Ponga said.

"I learnt a lot in the pre-season just because I was there and the coaches were good with me. It is good to have that spot and a bit of responsibility on my shoulder.

"It's a good bunch of blokes down here and they made me feel comfortable and welcome within a week or so. I've fit in pretty well which I'm happy about.

"I've got a bit of a role now in this team and I'm enjoying it, so off-field and on-field I'm enjoying it."

Being touted as a Maroon-in-waiting by the likes of Queensland great Billy Moore after just 10 NRL games shows just how far Ponga has come in a short space of time.

He was chased by the Brisbane Lions, Queensland Reds, Brisbane Broncos, Sydney Roosters, and Melbourne Storm before signing with North Queensland as a 15-year-old.

It was about that time Ponga was in Canberra with a Queensland Schoolboys under 15s team - he remembers it was "raining, cold, and terrible the whole time".

He starred on the paddock that week and he wants to do it again in his return to the capital on Sunday. If recent trends continue, he could be in for another thriller.

Newcastle enjoyed a dream start with a thrilling golden point win over Manly in round one while the Raiders endured a nightmare against the Gold Coast Titans.

Ponga says the Knights are confident, but they can't afford to take too much out of last week - except the belief that Mitchell Pearce will stand up when the game is on the line.

"Even in that game on the weekend, anyone could have hit that field goal," Ponga said.

"We've been in that position now. It's hard to say really in those moments. I know that Junior [Pearce] always says under pressure he'll get them, so I have faith in him.

"He always rocks up to training with a smile, he loves being around the boys, learning off us, teaching us things.

"I'd say that he's loving life in Newy and we're loving having him here so hopefully we continue to play some good footy together and build into the season.

"Obviously after a win you're feeling a bit more confident but we know we've got a big job. [Canberra] have got a big pack and they're a team that breaks a lot of tackles. They can outmuscle a team.

"I think our forward pack has a big task this week and hopefully we can just play some good footy, complete and turn them around."

If the Knights forwards can stave off a hulking Canberra pack, the platform will be there for the game's most exciting teenager to leave defenders clutching at thin air and fans' jaws on the floor.

NRL ROUND TWO

Sunday: Canberra Raiders v Newcastle Knights at Canberra Stadium, 6.30pm. Tickets available from Ticketek.

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Raiders squad: 1. Jack Wighton, 2. Nick Cotric, 3. Jarrod Croker (C), 4. Joey Leilua, 5. Jordan Rapana, 6. Blake Austin, 7. Sam Williams, 8. Sia Soliola, 9. Siliva Havili, 10. Shannon Boyd, 11. Josh Papalii, 12. Elliott Whitehead, 13. Luke Bateman. Interchange from: 14. Aidan Sezer, 15. Junior Paulo, 16. Dunamis Lui, 17. Charlie Gubb, 18. Craig Garvey, 19. Michael Oldfield, 20. Royce Hunt, 21. Jack Murchie.

Knights squad: 1. Kalyn Ponga, 2. Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 3. Sione Mata'utia, 4. Tautau Moga, 5. Nathan Ross, 6. Connor Watson, 7. Mitchell Pearce (c), 8. Herman Ese'ese, 9. Slade Griffin, 10. Jacob Lillyman, 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 12. Aidan Guerra, 13. Mitchell Barnett. Interchange from: 14. Brock Lamb, 15. Chris Heighington, 16. Jamie Buhrer (c), 17. Daniel Saifiti, 18. Ken Sio, 19. Jacob Saifiti, 20. Daniel Levi, 21. Luke Yates.

Caden Helmers is a sports reporter for The Canberra Times

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