Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga has been crowned the 2023 Dally M Medal winner, but has now admitted he tried to avoid attending the event – and even sent an email to the NRL on Wednesday morning in a bid to skip the ceremony to beat.
Ponga rose to his first Dally M on Wednesday night, collecting 50 of a possible 72 votes from his last twelve matches, moving Shaun Johnson one point ahead in the total.
However, the Newcastle superstar admitted he wasn’t happy about attending at all.
“I wasn’t going to go – I emailed the NRL that morning saying I didn’t want to go,” Ponga told 2DAY FM’s Hughesy, Ed and Erin on Thursday morning.
“I just wanted to sit back and watch it at home. Then they told me to go.”
Kaylyn Ponga revealed he tried to avoid attending the Dally M awards just hours before winning the game’s top individual honor
The Knights superstar emailed the NRL hours before the event in an attempt to avoid attending but was told to stand up
“In 2018 I said the same thing and NRL insisted 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 that he probably wouldn’t have won the Dally M Medal had he not been knocked out against Wests Tigers in March.
At one point it looked like his season would take a very different course.
Ponga suffered a concussion for the fourth time in ten months when he was injured in a head-on tackle against the Tigers in the second round and at one point considered retirement.
He sat out five games and spent time in Canada undergoing advanced neurological examinations of his brain before being cleared to return for the Knights.
The 25-year-old admitted that when he received his medal on Wednesday evening he felt he had let people down on that journey and needed to make amends in Newcastle.
“This was probably the worst year and the best year all rolled into one,” Ponga said.
‘It’s actually quite crazy. The conversations I had with my parents were very real. Once I knew I was okay, I felt like I had let a lot of people down.
Ponga believes he wouldn’t have won the award had he not suffered a concussion against Wests in the second round (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 in medical care in Canada
“I didn’t play my part, and I didn’t do my job. I knew I had much more in me.
‘I felt quite guilty. It was a build up from the year before and not playing due to a concussion.
“I just wanted to come back and make people proud, do my job and be the player I know I can be.”
Ponga admitted that while away from the game he feared he would no longer be able to fit into a Newcastle team that had found form without him at the start of the year.
But while he wishes he hadn’t suffered the blow to the head, the Queensland star isn’t sure he could have found the form he had without it, or whether he could have moved from fifth to fullback.
“I’m probably still stubborn and trying to play No. 6 (without the head knock), so to be honest I’m probably not going to win Dally M,” Ponga said.
‘The blow probably made me a full-back again.
‘I don’t condone head-butting at all, it’s clearly a bad part of the game. But it has made me reconsider.”
Ponga is pictured with Newcastle fullback Tamika Upton, who edged out 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 will not require surgery after suffering a shoulder injury at the end of the year.
Ponga, joined by his mother Adine for the ceremony, said she deserved to enjoy his award after the rollercoaster year.
“For a mother, it’s probably quite a confronting feeling when you see your son on the field with a cold,” Ponga said.
‘She didn’t watch my first three or four games, she was too scared.
“From a mother’s perspective, she’s probably ridden the wave more than anyone.
‘To see her son now standing on the podium with the Dally M medal around his neck is quite special.’