Penrith Panthers, Api Koroisau, Covid-19 vaccine, unvaccinated NRL players, no jab mandate, Newcastle Knights, Kalyn Ponga

Kalyn Ponga has expressed his desire to remain in the number one jersey for the coming season.

It has been speculated that Ponga could move into the halves to replace the outgoing Mitchell Pearce, but on his first day back to Newcastle’s pre-season training the superstar sat down with coach Adam O’Brien and informed him he wanted to stay at fullback.

A genuine attacking threat, Ponga has been touted for a move into the halves for years and with the Knights lack of spine options it seemed inevitable.

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“There was discussions but I’ve put that to bed,” Ponga told reporters on Wednesday according to Sporting News.

“I had a chat with Adsy and we finalised what I wanted to do and what we think’s best for the team and now I’m pretty settled – I want to play fullback.

“I want to work on my craft at the back I still think I’ve got plenty to go back there so for me it’s about being better in my position.”

The two current frontrunners for the halves position alongside Jake Clifford are Adam Clune, who made the move to the Hunter from the Dragons and has impressed, winning many of the club’s fitness tests.

21-year-old Phoenix Crossland has also been solid in his 16 games for Newcastle since his debut in 2019.


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“I’ve had a little bit to do with Clune and obviously Phoenix has been coming through, he gets better every year, I’ve played with Cliffo (Clifford) and he’s going to get better as well,” Ponga said.

“We’ve got some good characters (and) we’re in a position where we want to work hard and be better.

“So I think it’s healthy competition in the halves.”

In a huge boost for the Knights, club legend and Immortal Andrew Johns has signed on as a spine consultant and Ponga believes he will have a huge impact on the side.

“I’ve had two sessions with him already and just from those two sessions I can already feel the amount of detail, and attention and care and want that he has,” Ponga said.

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“It’s quite exciting for me and for the halves, the spine, the forwards. He’s going to be awesome for us.

“He speaks for himself and I’m excited to get to work with him.”

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The Panthers have issued a stern warning to hooker Api Koroisau, outlining the “very clear consequences” if he remains unvaccinated against Covid-19.

The premiers aren’t ready to sack Koroisau but will fine him heavily and have reminded the representative player how his absence will impact the team.

The NRL has not mandated the vaccine, meaning the 29-year-old is free to play under league regulations.

However, he will not be able to play in Queensland or Victoria, with both state governments banning unvaccinated people from entering stadiums.

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The same rules apply to enter New Zealand and Penrith are scheduled to cross the ditch next year. It’s understood around 10 NRL players remain unvaccinated.

Koroisau will miss at least four games in 2022 if he sticks to his guns and opts against getting the jab.

NRL 2021 GF Penrith Panthers v South Sydney Rabbitohs – Apisai Koroisau Picture: NRL PhotosSource: Supplied

“He had a meeting last week with the Panthers and was told very clearly the ramifications and the consequences if he doesn’t get his vaccination,” The Daily Telegraph’s Dean Richie told Big Sports Breakfast.

“Api will miss four games next year through not being vaccinated. Minimum four games.

“Panthers are saying it’s okay to fine him but how much disruption does that give the team during those weeks.


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“Api is on holidays, not back until Dec 15. When he walks in they’ll jump at him and go ‘What are your thoughts’.

“At the moment they don’t want to go down the sack him path, and I guess this is the confusion we get when each club has been left to make their own rules.

“The suggestion around town, which is unconfirmed, is that the NRL has sat back and calmly waited to get the vaccination rate right up into the mid 90s and might come out in December with a stringent policy that is clear cut and quite stern.”

The Bulldogs issued recruit John Asiata a letter of termination last week due to his refusal to be vaccinated.

Asiata recently signed a one-year deal with the Canterbury side, but the 28-year-old received he’d rather work on a construction site than get jabbed.

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