Why Joey’s ‘track record’ saves him at Knights as Ponga’s captaincy skills come under fire

The Knights’ attack has come under question after they scored just two points in back-to-back games.

But Phil Rothfield believes in no way should Andrew Johns be in the firing line despite the club legend working closely with the spine — and the pressure should be solely on head coach Adam O’Brien.

Newcastle have slumped to the bottom of the ladder after a six-game losing streak. Their two most recent games — a 39-2 loss to the Eels followed by a 50-2 loss to the Storm — have been their most disappointing performances.

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A penalty goal in the eighth minute was the only way the Knights scored points in their loss to the Eels and it was the same story last Sunday against the Storm.

But Rothfield believes the blowtorch should not be turned on Johns — the club legend who has returned to reinvigorate Newcastle’s attack.

Rothfield was asked on Big Sports Breakfast if there was pressure on Johns given he is the “attacking genius.”

Rothfield said “No because of his track record.”

Storm smash struggling Knights | 01:15

The Knights scored 20, 26 and 20 points in their first three games respectively but since then those numbers have dropped to nil, six, 16, two and two.

However Rothfield believes Johns’ history of what he’s done at other clubs is enough to keep the heat off him. But the same can’t be said about O’Brien.

“It’s a point that our fans will raise and I grant for that,” he said in regards to the Knights’ struggle to score points in recent weeks.

“The thing is Andrew Johns has more runs on the board as a coach than Adam O’Brien does and that’s why I’m talking about that.

“Joey worked at the Roosters while Cooper Cronk was there and Luke Keary in the halves.

“He worked at Parramatta and the improvement in Mitchell Moses’ game and Dylan Brown has very much Andrew Johns’ polish all over it.

“I can understand you raising that but I guess we’ve got to look at the whole structure at Newcastle and I went up there for pre-season training. They’ve moved into the best high performance centre you can ever imagine.

“They’ve got a great high performance team but in rugby league it’s a bit like Justin Langer who was unfairly dismissed, I believe, as the Australian cricket coach — the buck does stop with the head coach.

“If the team’s not performing you don’t sack the chief executive, you don’t necessarily sack the assistant coach.

“I don’t believe this is Andrew Johns’ fault but I guess you’re fair to raise that as an issue.”

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The Knights’ decision to go for a penalty goal against the Storm rather than attempt for a try while trailing 26 points was bizarre.

Halfback Jake Clifford slotted the goal from over 40 metres out for what it’s worth but it ended up being the only points scored by the home side.

Skipper Kalyn Ponga put his hand up after the game and admitted it was a bad call on his behalf.

“That was probably me,” Ponga said in the post-game press conference.

“We probably should have had a set. I didn’t really know, I didn’t really think… that was probably on me.”

Ponga was also a little lost when asked after the game what he would say to his teammates after the heavy defeat.

“Probably not much… I don’t know. I did a fair bit of talking throughout the week but I don’t know. I’ll think of something,” he told Fox League.

It was that response that has News Corp journalist Dave Riccio even questioning whether the 24-year-old is capable of leading the Knights.

Newcastle Knights press conference | 09:06

“I’m starting to wonder and question within my own mind whether Kalyn Ponga is the right captain for Newcastle,” Riccio told SEN.

“I go to his post-match conference after the game … Kalyn was asked, ‘What will you say to the team in the dressing room post-match’.

“I get it, it’s immediately after the game, emotions are high and he hasn’t had time to think of it … but he is the leader, he is the captain of this club that means so much to so many people.

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“People hang on every word their captain says, his response was, ‘Not much. I don’t know, I’ll think of something’.

“I just think there’s not much I’ve seen from Kalyn as far as sending a strong message of body language and communication that, ‘This is going to be okay’.

“I just thought it needed more of that, it reminds me when Matt Moylan when he was captain of Penrith.

“Some people aren’t naturals in the role, Kalyn has some development in that area.”

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