How Ponga’s fullback switch made Knights too predictable
Newcastle coach Nathan Brown has indicated the Knights will persist with Mason Lino at five-eighth in a move that could force Connor Watson into a bench role.
Brown also admitted the team looked to Kalyn Ponga too much during their loss to the Dragons on Sunday, and Lino didn't enough ball.
Ponga set up both the side's tries and was electric, but his presence on the left edge may have made their attack too predictable.
Lino made a solid club debut in the Knights' NRL golden-point loss to St George Illawarra on Sunday, despite Brown admitting his new playmaker was underdone.
The former Warriors pivot missed a team-high five tackles as he underwent a torrid initiation by Dragons enforcer Tariq Sims.
"He's been limited due to an injury. But I thought he was nice and solid, especially his defensive part of the game was really strong," Brown said.
"His last 16 months of footy, Tariq's proved he's as hard to handle as anyone on the edge. So (Lino) got that part really well."
It was in attack where Lino was largely ineffective, handling the ball just 18 times compared to Mitchell Pearce's dominant 55 touches.
Kalyn Ponga, at fullback, received the ball 29 times.
"I thought we certainly need to help him get into the game a bit more and he needs to help himself get into the game a bit more," Brown said of Lino.
"The risk with Kalyn back at (fullback) is it gets too left-sided dominant. So we need to make sure our right-sided player gets himself into the contest a bit as well.
"As a whole, he really handled Tariq well and come up pretty solid."
Brown suggested keeping the 25-year-old in the halves for next week's match against Manly, even if Connor Watson is available for selection.
Watson, who started the year at fullback before Ponga's switch back to the spot, has missed the past two matches due to a knee issue.
And his versatility may now mean he reverts to a bench utility role. Asked whether Lino would keep his spot, Brown said: "I'm not a big fan of changing halves, to be honest with you.
"He's certainly got the skillset to help the team improve, there's no doubt about that. With more footy and more match fitness, I'm sure he'll keep improving."
Brown also hinted at current utility Kurt Mann being used in the centres.
"Connor's good at dummy half, and Kurt's good in the centres," he said.
"They are handy players and the game, if we do keep getting these tired people on the field, people like Connor become very important with their speed."