Hungry Ponga will be fit for Maroons but Knights fall short against Canberra

Kalyn Ponga hasn’t eaten for days, but the Queensland fullback is confident he will be fit to fly to Perth as the Maroons look to secure a State of Origin triumph.

Ponga was struck down by illness in the lead-up to Newcastle’s clash with Canberra and fell just short of inspiring a stirring victory, with Raiders forward Hudson Young’s moment of brilliance stealing a 20-18 win at the death at GIO Stadium on Sunday.

Young’s 79th-minute try kept the Raiders, who had given up a 14-point lead, just one win outside the top eight while the Knights are now six points off the pace and quickly losing touch with the finals contenders.

Newcastle were left gutted at the final whistle. Ponga was routinely down on his haunches and in constant need of treatment for an upset stomach, yet was still the Knights’ most potent weapon.

It was reminiscent of the day the Knights star and set up two tries in a match-winning performance over Cronulla last year. This time there would be no such heroics.

Newcastle coach Adam O’Brien lauded the 24-year-old’s toughness and has no doubt Ponga will be fit to join the Maroons ahead of game two in Perth next Sunday night.

He’s had a gastro thing. I was confident he was on top of it this morning but he couldn’t eat, O’Brien said. He wasn’t in a good way and I could tell it was going to be a real ask for him. Kalyn being Kalyn, he needed to be out there.

He hasn’t eaten for a few days. There’s not much of him as there is. He’s just gassed at the moment. He doesn’t get a lot of raps for his toughness, Kalyn, there are people who want to get stuck into him a bit. I know and we know, the club and the players know what we’ve got with him. I wouldn’t swap him for anyone.

He’ll be on top of it now. This is probably at its peak. The doctors are with him there. They’ve just got to get his fluids back up and get some food into him.

The Raiders shot out to a 14-0 lead on the back of tries to Nick Cotric, Matt Timoko and Xavier Savage. Things went further south for the Knights when Tyson Frizell failed a head injury assessment.

But the visitors found a glimmer of hope in their mercurial fullback. He put Kurt Mann and Mat Croker over for tries, the latter coming after he had been hit late by Raiders captain Elliott Whitehead, who was sent to the sin bin.

Edrick Lee scored to give the Knights the lead for the first time. Errors cost Lee and Dom Young tries that would have put the result to bed.

Then Young rose to the occasion with the game hanging in the balance, swooping on his own grubber to seal a last-gasp victory.

I don’t think he would have liked to have heard what I said in the box when he kicked it. But I did say ‘good try’ straight away after it, Raiders coach Ricky Stuart laughed.

I love coaching Hudson. He gets a bad rap for the way he plays. A lot of people think he’s an angry man and whatnot, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

He is a competitor, he’s always in your face, and he loves his footy. He’s one of those guys who loves to read about the footy, loves to read about other teams and other players. He’s a very passionate kid about rugby league. I’m happy for him at the moment because he is playing good footy.

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