Kalyn Ponga beats Shaun Johnson for NRL award

“I wasn’t [robbed] – Kalyn had a great year, he was the centrepiece of the Knights going on their run, and it was a really special run they went on. If there was going to be a person I thought was going to get it, it was him,” Johnson said.

“When I got asked before the night what it would mean to me [to win], I hadn’t put much thought into it. As the night goes on, and they string you along [with the results], your heart gets racing, and I was like, ‘maybe I am a genuine chance of winning it’.

Dally M favourite Shaun Johnson, seen here arriving at the awards with his wife Kayla, missed out to Ponga.Credit: James Brickwood

“At some point in the night I started caring about it. I said to Kalyn up there, ‘did you play the last two rounds?’ He said, ‘I didn’t play the last one’, and I was like, ‘neither did I’.

“When they gave me my points [for the last game], I asked him, ‘how well did you play? Did you kill it?’ He said, ‘I played good, but I didn’t kill it’. I was like, ‘OK’. Then six points popped up, and I was like, ‘bro, you killed it, you little liar’.”


Had Ponga remained on the field all year, the Dally M winner could have been announced at 8.30pm, not 10pm. Ponga, however, said had it not been for the overseas trip, he may have still been trying to prove himself as a five-eighth, and not pushed back to fullback.

The Warriors’ Andrew Webster was crowned coach of the year, the Broncos’ Adam Reynolds captain of the year, and Panthers flyer Sunia Turuva rookie of the year.

Tackle of the year?

Haumole Olakau’atu picked up tackle of the year for his hit on Melbourne’s Justin Olam, but eyebrows were raised when Joe Tapine’s hit on an injured Reece Walsh in round 26, which was questioned at the time, was also among the finalists.

Klein breaks silence on GF snub

Ashley Klein would have loved to have been the referee for Sunday’s grand final, but was grateful his good mate Adam Gee got the nod.

“Like all the players who start the season, they want to be playing grand final day, and the referees are no different,” Klein said.

“We have a squad of 18 and only one of us can do it.

“It’s Adam’s turn, and I hope he goes out and goes really well. I’ll be doing my best to assist him in the bunker.

“Adam is one of my closest mates in the squad, we did a lot of games under the two-ref system, so I’m really excited for him.”

Klein has not given up hope of being in the middle for future deciders and said: “I’ve always said I’ll stop refereeing when I stop enjoying it. I love refereeing. I’ll be back bigger and better, and what this creates is competition for the entire squad to perform well.”

Klein was dropped for missing a blatant knock-on by Harry Grant during the Melbourne-Roosters semi-final. Grant was at the Dally Ms, and when asked if the Storm rake owed Klein a beer, the whistleblower smiled and said: “No comment.”

That’s Versace, bro

New Zealand Warrior Addin Fonua-Blake rocked an impressive black and gold shirt and, when asked if there was a Tongan influence behind the design, the prop said: “Tongan? It’s Versace.”


“Suits are for funerals,” Fonua-Blake said with a smile.

Fonua-Blake clashed with the Panthers and Broncos packs during the finals, and said Penrith’s James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota were different to Brisbane’s Payne Haas and Pat Carrigan.

“They’re two different types of players, ‘Fish’ and Leota are very good at grinding away and setting the platform from the start,” Fonua-Blake said.

“Then you have Payne, Carrigan and Flegler who just keep offloading. Tackling Payne is not a fun job. I feel like the Broncos were a bit harder [to contain] because they kept throwing the ball around. You’d turn your back and think the tackle is done, and the next thing you know is Reece Walsh is under the sticks.”

Api with decision to ditch premiers

Api Koroisau said there was no tinge of sadness this week knowing the Wests Tigers collected the wooden spoon and his old Penrith mates were chasing a third straight title.

“I made that decision at the start of last year, you move on with your life, and I’m a Tiger man now,” Koroisau said.

“I’ll still be supporting my brothers at Penrith. They’re so skilled in what they do, they’re very consistent, the ability and coaching is there, and they have what it takes.”

The Tigers could do with a brilliant playmaker like Jarome Luai, who is off contract at the end of next year, and free to negotiate with rivals from November 1.

“I’ll hit him up come November 1, and I’m sure the Tigers will be hitting him up then,” Koroisau said.

The Tigers skipper will skip the Tests for Fiji next month, but one Tiger who will play is Jahream Bula.

Bula is eligible for Fiji, New Zealand and Samoa, and wants to play for NSW, even though he qualifies for Queensland, but with his grandfather getting older, he made playing for Fiji a priority. They play Tests against the Cook Islands and Papua New Guinea.

Nicho Hynes’ PNG perspective

Last year’s Dally M winner, Cronulla’s Nicho Hynes, said his heart was with Harry Grant taking the top prize, but his head was with Shaun Johnson.

Hynes played a utility role for the Prime Minister’s XIII. He said seeing people in Port Moresby had “put life into perspective” and it helped overcome the Sharks’ qualifying-final loss. He said he’d go on holiday if forced to wait a little longer on his Kangaroos’ Test dream.

Watch the NRL grand final live and exclusive on Channel 9 and 9Now.

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