Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga has been crowned the 2023 Dally M Medal winner, but has now admitted that he tried to get out of attending the event – and even emailed the NRL on Wednesday morning in an effort to skip the ceremony.
Ponga surged to his maiden Dally M on Wednesday night, collecting 50 of a possible 72 votes from his final 12 games to pip Shaun Johnson by one point in the overall tally.
However, the Newcastle superstar confessed he wasn’t thrilled about attending in the first place.
‘I wasn’t going to go – I actually sent the NRL an email that morning saying I didn’t want to go,’ Ponga told 2DAY FM’s Hughesy, Ed & Erin on Thursday morning.
‘I just wanted to sit back and watch it at home. They then said I had to go.’
Kaylyn Ponga revealed he tried to get out of attending the Dally M awards just hours before he won the highest individual honour in the game
The Knights superstar emailed the NRL hours before the event in an effort to get out of attending – only to be told he had to rock up
‘Back in 2018 I said the same thing, and NRL insisted that I had to go and that year I came second. So I thought I was there to keep the numbers up. ‘
Ponga admitted after the event he would probably not have won the Dally M Medal if not for being knocked out against Wests Tigers in March.
At one stage his season looked likely to take an entirely different course.
Concussed for the fourth time in 10 months when he was hurt in a front-on tackle against the Tigers in round two, Ponga considered retirement at one point.
He sat out five matches and spent time in Canada undergoing advanced neurological assessments on his brain, before being cleared to return for the Knights.
The 25-year-old admitted on receiving his medal on Wednesday night he felt while on that trip he had let people down, and needed to make it up to Newcastle.
‘This was probably the worst year and the best year all in one,’ Ponga said.
‘It is actually pretty crazy. The conversations I had with my parents were quite real. Once I knew I was fine, I felt like I let a lot of people down.
Ponga believes he wouldn’t have won the award had he not been concussed against Wests in round two (pictured) – saying he reassessed his game afterwards and came back better
Ponga says he wanted to make people proud when he returned to the Knights after spending time getting medical help in Canada
‘I wasn’t playing my part, and I wasn’t doing my job. I knew I had a lot more in me.
‘I felt pretty guilty. It was a build up of the year before and not playing because of a concussion.
‘I just wanted to come back and make people proud and do my job and be the player I know I can be.’
Ponga admitted that while away from the game he feared he would not be able to fit back into a Newcastle team that had found form without him early in the year.
But while he wished he had not suffered the head knock, the Queensland star is unsure he could have found the form he did without it or shifted to fullback from five-eighth.
‘I’m probably still being stubborn and trying to play No.6 [without the head knock], so I’m probably not winning Dally M to be honest,’ Ponga said.
‘The knock probably put me back to fullback admittedly.
‘I don’t condone head knocks at all, it’s obviously a bad part of the game. But it made me reassess.’
Ponga is pictured with Newcastle fullback Tamika Upton, who took out the Dally M as the best and fairest player in the NRLW
Ponga will make himself available for Australia in the end-of-season Tests, confirming he does not require surgery after suffering a shoulder injury late in the year.
Partnered by his mother Adine for the ceremony, Ponga said she deserved to enjoy his prize after the rollercoaster year.
‘For a mother, if you see your son blackout cold on the footy field, it’s probably a pretty confronting feeling for her,’ Ponga said.
‘My first three or four games back she didn’t watch them, she was too scared.
‘She’s probably ridden the wave more than anyone from a mother’s perspective.
‘To now see her son stand on the stage with the Dally M medal around the neck, it’s pretty special.’
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