Kalyn Ponga has struggled so far since his switch to five-eighth. Picture: AAP
Kalyn Ponga has struggled so far since his switch to five-eighth. Picture: AAP

Monday Bunker: Brown must pull pin on Ponga switch

With Round 3 of the competition now done and dusted, our team of rugby league writers analyse the NRL's talking points in the Monday Bunker.



Broncos v Dragons

Tevita Pangai Jr and the Broncos need to be more consistent. Picture: Getty Images
Tevita Pangai Jr and the Broncos need to be more consistent. Picture: Getty Images


Tevita Pangai Jr is the perfect poster boy for the Broncos. Electrifying one week. Erratic the next.

A week after destroying the Cowboys, Pangai Jr's error-riddled display against the Dragons underlined the inconsistency that has plagued the Broncos for the past 18 months.

Broncos coach Anthony Seibold's blueprint is built on 'effort' but Brisbane need to improve the one per cent areas for Thursday night's blockbuster against premiers the Roosters.

The 25-24 scoreline flattered Brisbane. Their pack lacked energy. Their marker defence was sloppy. Their left-edge defence looked vulnerable and Brisbane's execution in clutch moments needed more polish.

Matt Lodge's return from suspension this week gives the Broncos some front-row muscle and they will need his 117kg frame to set the platform for halves Kodi Nikorima and Anthony Milford.

The Dragons, meanwhile, have finally snapped a two-match losing streak. The loss of Gareth Widdop (shoulder) is significant but Corey Norman's matchwinning field-goal is evidence he is starting to settle at his new club alongside half Ben Hunt.

Up front, Dragons prop Paul Vaughan produced a mighty performance, setting the tone for the Red V's midfield dominance. If he keeps up that form, Vaughan must come into calculations for a NSW Origin jumper.

- Peter Badel




Raiders v Knights



Nathan Brown has listened to what Kalyn Ponga wanted. Now the Newcastle coach must do what is best for the team. And that means Ponga has to be switched from five-eighth to fullback for this Sunday's clash against St George Illawarra.

It's probably not the greatest news for the Dragons because shutting down Ponga in the front line will be a lot less difficult than trying to contain him playing in the No.1 jumper where Ponga was an absolute revelation last year.

Both teams will be desperate to come out on top here with just one win from their first three games.

Brown has previously stated it was Ponga's call for him to be moved to No.6 this season and credit to the coach for trying to work with him on that.

But we saw again last Friday night that Ponga just doesn't have the same impact as he does with space to move at the back, where he can pick his moments and inject himself into the play.

After struggling through about 60 minutes in Canberra, Brown switched Ponga to fullback and there is no question the Knights looked far more threatening, even if it didn't result in late points.

On top of that Ponga just doesn't need to carry the extra workload in defence and it was a factor Canberra again exploited, constantly running their big men in Ponga's direction with Dunamis Lui and John Bateman in particular giving him nightmares.

While not declaring Ponga would make the switch back this week, Brown said after the game the time for listening to what the players want may have passed.

"But there comes a time when the coach has got to make the decision as well," Brown said.

- Paul Crawley




Eels v Roosters

Parramatta have a way to go to match it with the NRL’s best sides. Picture: AAP
Parramatta have a way to go to match it with the NRL’s best sides. Picture: AAP


Parramatta's two wins to open the season against Penrith and then Canterbury were not an overachievement - the Eels were the better team on both occasions.

But what their performance on Friday night against the Roosters, particularly in the second half, showed is that they are still a fair way off the competition's benchmark.

That's not to say the Eels aren't an improved side in 2019, they clearly are but there is still work to be done. Especially on their goalline.

Coach Brad Arthur was unimpressed with the final 20 minutes by his team. He rejected the suggestion the attitude that lead to his side winning the wooden spoon last year had reared its head again on Friday night. But he didn't miss when assessing the lack of resilience shown in the second half, allowing the Roosters to score four tries.

"We came here tonight looking for an opportunity and we gave ourselves a real good opportunity with 20 minutes to go," Arthur said.

"We can say that we turned over some cheap possession at times and didn't quite get the detail right with some silly errors.

"But at the end of the day, if we want to mix it with the really good teams, we've got to be harder with our defence on the tryline.

"We can't allow soft tries at he tryline. We can say it's a weight of possession, but at the end of the day some of the tries they scored weren't good enough."

While any coach might be hard pressed to make changes to a winning side, Roosters coach Trent Robinson could be looking to make a change out on the right edge. Matt Ikuvalu, who only had three NRL games under his belt, was handed the opportunity to show what he can offer after Brett Morris was ruled out for at least three weeks with a knee injury. But he had an unhappy day with his hands, dropping the ball on three separate occasions. He also struggled defensively trying to mark up against Eels winger Maika Sivo. Robinson has other options in the outside backs, if he decided to look elsewhere next week with young gun Bernard Lewis waiting in the wings, literally, for a chance to make his NRL debut.

- Fatima Kdouh




Sea Eagles v Warriors



Tom Trbojevic was superb on his return for Manly. Picture: AAP
Tom Trbojevic was superb on his return for Manly. Picture: AAP


Tom Trbojevic is a terrific fullback, one of the very best in the league and anybody could see the impact he made in Manly's big win over the Warriors.

Trbojevic, along with his brother Jake, halfback Daly Cherry-Evans and prop Martin Taupau, is part of Manly's greatest strength and weakness, namely how top-heavy their roster has become.

In the first two weeks Manly looked like wooden spoon contenders but once their big four all played together and were on song they looked like something entirely different.

Manly may well be able to continue this type of form over the coming weeks, but the margin for error is perilously slim.

Assuming those four fire, on any given day against any given team Manly may boast four of the best five players on the field but that's not enough for true premiership contention.

What Manly need to hang with the best of the NRL is their auxiliary players - like Addin Fonua-Blake, Curtis Sironen, Apisai Koroisau and Moses Suli - to step up week to week.

When they do, Manly have a lot of potential - Fonua-Blake in particular was excellent against New Zealand, as was young hooker Manase Fainu.

When they don't, the Sea Eagles are flat out beating a drum.

- Nick Campton




Cowboys v Sharks 



Cronulla halfback Shaun Johnson is off to a flier with his new club. Picture: Zak Simmonds
Cronulla halfback Shaun Johnson is off to a flier with his new club. Picture: Zak Simmonds


Cronulla playmakers Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend are proving to be the most dangerous halves combination in the competition.

The pair ran riot against the Cowboys in a second half blitzkrieg up in Townsville on Saturday afternoon, piling on six tries to one in the final 40 minutes.

Johnson's kicking game was precise all night as was his 100% conversion rate, kicking seven from seven on a suffocatingly humid afternoon.

His two try assists came from his ability to slide across the Cowboys defensive line to identify tired players.

His partner in crime Townsend was the icing on the cake for the duo, as he dominated a stunned North Queensland side.

The Sharks half finished the match with the most run metres of his side at 123m, which included a 60m line break down the field early in the second half which kicked off their five-try haul in 20 minutes.

His ability to target a gap in the defence saw him bag a double and break through two tackles during the game.

Clubs will need to shut down Cronulla's halves if they have any chance of defeating the boys from "The Shire" in 2019.

- Chris Honnery





Panthers v Storm


The Panthers have failed to fire so far in 2019. Picture: AAP
The Panthers have failed to fire so far in 2019. Picture: AAP



Penrith head into their highly anticipated clash with the Tigers sitting with just one win from their opening three games.

It is hardly the return Ivan Cleary had hoped for since again taking control of the Panthers.

They dominated the first half against the Storm in terms of possession and territory but struggled to produce anything in attack to worry a resolute Storm defence. The only time they looked like scoring was through a last-tackle play.

Their second half defence was soft. Particularly on their goal-line where they leaked two tries which prompted Cleary to label the performance as "awful and inept".

The Storm just keep on keeping on. Cameron Munster is the form player of the competition - scoring a try, making a rare three one-on-one steals and his boot producing another four-pointer - in a world class performance.

- Michael Carayannis




Rabbitohs v Titans



Ash Taylor could return for the Titans this week. Picture: Getty Images
Ash Taylor could return for the Titans this week. Picture: Getty Images



When Ash Taylor extended his tenure at the Gold Coast Titans in October, 2017 it was reported to be a $3.2 million, three-year-deal.

So if you happen to be sifting through the ashes of Gold Coast's 0-3 start to the season, find me another club that would be flying without their best-paid player.

Taylor and Tyrone Roberts will be on a plane from the Gold Coast to Auckland today where they will join the Titans in the preparation for their important clash with the Warriors on Friday night at Mt Smart Stadium.

The delayed start to Taylor's season from a quadriceps injury is bad news for the Titans for one reason beyond going into battle without their best halfback - the 23-year-old presented last season as someone who needed to elevate his fitness level as an NRL mainstay.

Wriggle room is tight now if they are to unwind a run at the finals.

Taylor trained on Saturday, but if he needs another week to recover what do the Titans do for a kicking game against the Warriors.

By half-time of the game 28-20 loss to Souths on Sunday, a winger, Dale Copley, had the most kicks by a Titan, with three as Souths posted a 18-8 lead.

I saw coach Garth Brennan, after a measured press conference, walking by himself in a corridor at ANZ Stadium. He looked like a man in need of thinking space, taking a brief escape from the dynamics of a team battling and answers.

- Paul Malone