New Zealand international Danny Levi believes the Knights can do a better job of helping talismanic playmaker Kalyn Ponga make the transition from fullback to five-eighth.
Ponga's switch to the halves to partner captain Mitchell Pearce has been heavily scrutinised by punters and pundits alike in Newcastle's first two home games – a season-opening 14-8 victory over Cronulla followed by a 16-14 loss to Penrith last Saturday.
The 2018 RLPA Players' Champion has been solid rather than spectacular as he feels his way at pivot, but he created a try for Edrick Lee with a double cut-out pass against the Panthers and almost scored one himself but could not ground the ball when diving for Pearce's grubber kick.
As dummy-half and chief distributor for most of Newcastle's attacking sets, Levi is in prime position to see how Ponga is adjusting to his new role closer to the ruck.
Ponga sends Lee over
"We've still got a long way to go but when you see us at training, you see little glimpses of what we can do and it's definitely working," Levi told reporters after training in Newcastle earlier this week.
"We've just got to stick at it and make sure we keep bringing more and more of it. Kalyn's a freak – he can do whatever he wants – so I've always got massive confidence in Kalyn and what he can do.
"I try and listen out for him and when he wants the ball, I'll give it to him, but I think we can help him out by giving him the opportunities and giving him the open space, so it's a team effort, but he's definitely a threat when we give him space.
"Kalyn had a nice solid game [against Penrith] but I think we can get more out of him if we help him out, but that's just going to take some time and we're working at it."
Levi, who played four Tests for the Kiwis in the 2017 World Cup, will have his hands full against England hooker Josh Hodgson when the Knights play Canberra at GIO Stadium on Friday night.
He and Hodgson have met on five occasions since Levi made his NRL debut in 2015, though the 23-year-old Wellington junior started for the Knights in only two of those games – a 24-all draw in Newcastle in 2016 and a 34-20 victory at the same venue the following year.
"With every opposition, I always like to make sure that I try and play better than my opposite," he said of his match-up against Hodgson.
"I've definitely got a challenge up against me this weekend, but I'm excited for it.
"I still think I need to work on a few things from the weekend. I thought I let myself down in a few areas but it's only round two and there's still a long season to go, so I'm sure it will be all good."
Off-season recruit Kurt Mann has been used as Levi's dummy-half understudy in Newcastle's opening two games but an injury cloud over fullback Connor Watson could earn veteran Jamie Buhrer a call-up to fill the bench utility role against the Raiders.
Watson is likely to be ruled out at the team's final training run on Thursday and Mann is tipped to replace him at fullback, allowing Ponga to remain alongside Pearce in the halves. That would create a vacancy on the bench and Buhrer's versatility and experience gives him the inside running.
"There were a few things that we lacked [against Penrith] that we brought against the Sharks so that's a bit of that consistency thing we have to bring," Levi said.
"When we play the footy that we practise, we've shown what we can do. We went away from that a fair bit in the game [against Penrith] and they had that bit more desire than us at that time, but the last run we had at the back end, we showed when we're on what we can do."
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