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Ponga's biggest challenge in switch to halves

There are some positive early signs in Kalyn Ponga's shift from fullback to five-eighth this year, but one of his biggest challenges will be adapting to having far less room to move in the frontline compared to out the back.

The other thing that will be a big learning curve for Ponga given his outstanding physical attributes – his speed, skill, strength and his step – is learning not to try and do it all himself, to know when to take a back seat and just use the players around him.

He was a sensation coming up through the grades. He's a natural athlete and his toughness was on full display in his Origin debut so that's certainly not an issue either.

One of the main differences between playing fullback and five-eighth that Ponga will need to adjust to is at fullback you have more vision. People aren't running off you, you're running off them. You've got more options, more space and more time.

Ponga and Pearce break down new halves combination

When I first came into first grade at Souths I was picked at fullback. I never played fullback before but Tim Brasher hurt his neck and I got put there because I was versatile.

I found I had the speed and ball skills but in terms of controlling a team I just didn't have that experience. When you come through grades as a fullback you're not really controlling a team anyway.

Throughout different times I'd get put into the frontline as a five-eighth or half because that's where I played all my junior footy and the thing I struggled with moving back into the line was a lack of time.

You've really got to straighten up your attack as well. Particularly with natural athletes like Ponga who are fast and have the skill, they tend to go a bit lateral at times. You tend to default back to your speed and skill as opposed to a slower player or one not as strong who has to use their brain and be craftier and use players around them to have things come off.

For me early on, my first instinct would be to try and run over someone or beat them with a step or speed and I'm sure Ponga would be the same. But a slower player can't do that, they have to use the players around them so they learn to get the most out of them. That's the one thing that might be a challenge for him.

The thing Ponga has to focus on is learning tempo and using the players around him. You need those combinations with your centres and second-rowers as well as the other playmakers. Other players around you need to know your style and what you want from them.

Ponga sets up Fitzgibbon

Ponga is coming into the prime of his career athletically but if he can develop those finer skills the game's best ball players have, he could be such an amazing player. If you look at what players like Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston have achieved, they were never the strongest or the fastest or the most agile but the way they fit into a team and use the players around them has generated so much success.

One big factor Ponga will have in his favour is his halves partner Mitch Pearce. Pearce really does take control as a half, which means a lot less thinking for Kalyn to have to come up with. He can play a really uncomplicated game, he can wait for an opportunity and call it.

If there is no opportunity he doesn't have to overplay his hand because Pearce will steer the ship. Pearce plays a direct style of attack, he will give Kalyn a lot of space which is the thing he would miss most going to five-eighth if he didn't have a halfback like Pearce. It's like the way Shaun Johnson really opens up and comes into his own with a good half inside him steering the ship and he can wait for the opportunity to present itself.

The best of Kalyn Ponga's breakout 2018

So overall is this a good move? Whether it works out for the team will depend a lot on how their combinations form and how Connor Watson goes at fullback.

But in terms of Ponga's development this is definitely the right move. The sooner he gets into it and finds out if that is what he wants to do, the better. He's young, can afford to go to five-eighth and make a few mistakes and work out if it's for him or not and it will be a great thing because he gets a different perspective on the game. Having him with the ball more frequently is only going to be a good thing for the Knights.