Knights halves Pearce and Ponga share the love

All you need is love – to make a good halves pairing – just ask Mitchell Pearce.

The Knights will roll out a new halves partnership for the 2019 Telstra Premiership season in Pearce at halfback and Kalyn Ponga at five-eighth.

They have only played No.7 and No.6 together once before. But coach Nathan Brown has agreed to their request to strike up a permanent partnership, starting with the Knights' two trial games against the Dragons (February 23) and Sharks (March 2).

Pearce has given a little insight on the ingredients of a good halves combination.

"Me and him are great mates – we talk a lot about footy. Actually he doesn't want to talk a lot about footy but I force him into it," Pearce said of Ponga.

"As halves you need a good relationship. You have to have a lot of love for each other and play for each other. We've got a good connection so I'm excited."

Knights halfback Mitchell Pearce in action.
Knights halfback Mitchell Pearce in action. ©Keegan Carroll/NRL Photos

The wizardry in attack by both men is a certainty – Pearce's immaculate kicking game and Ponga's side-stepping and ball play. But Pearce knows how they both defend will be crucial to their success.

"To be honest our attack is something I'm confident about. I feel like we'll have good control of the team if we keep working hard and stay focused," Pearce said.

"The biggest thing for me and him is his drive and his defensive mentality. Moving from fullback to five-eighth comes a bigger defensive load and he's got to own that defence, and so do I on my edge as well."

Pearce knows the power of Ponga will strengthen the Knights' playmaking but make his job easier at No.7.

However, the 29-year-old also credits coach Nathan Brown with enlightening his own game, even if he's about enter his 13th season of NRL.

"I really enjoy the attack Brownie coaches. I feel like he's got the better out of me as a half.

"He's taught me some little idiosyncrasies and subtleties. I've played for a long time but they were things new to me and have helped me.

"Attacking players are only as good as the structure around them and the education from the coach is crucial.

"He's allowed me and Kalyn to play our best style. We've got to keep working on that but it's been a bit plus me moving here."

As for Brown, he knows many in the rugby league world think he's taking a gamble with Ponga shifting from a brilliant season at No.1 in 2018 – so much so that he made the Queensland Origin team – to the unknown territory of No.6.

"He's such a good player," Brown said.

"You've got Cameron Munster who played fullback for Melbourne in a grand final [2016] and then played five-eighth for Queensland. It's more the style of play for us. It's something we're quite comfortable that will work for us.

"Kalyn's style of play is not going to change.

"People will see what he can bring to the table. He's quite a unique player but we're comfortable he'll play good footy but like all young kids, he'll have times when he'll think he needs to work on this or that."

The second-year syndrome for up-and-coming players isn't something that Brown worries about Ponga suffering.

"In Kalyn's case, this next six weeks [the final pre-season training block] is about putting the things in place that are going to help him," Brown said.

"The game is always more difficult to play in year two in some ways, but we all know what Kalyn can do. He played lock for Queensland and many think it was the best debut they'd seen.

"So he can obviously adapt to situations.

"I'm sure opposition sides will target him but I'm sure he'll work out ways to combat that himself and as staff we'll help him out too.

"We're very confident Kalyn will have a good year."