Kalyn Ponga has shot down suggestions Jack Wighton's biting incident fired up the Knights on Sunday, with the Raiders centre sent straight to the NRL judiciary on Monday. NRL greats Michael Ennis and Corey Parker were astounded at the scenes that unfolded in Newcastle during the last match of finals week one, as Tyson Gamble emerged from a tackle in the second-half clutching at his arm.
Referee Ashley Klein placed Wighton on report after Gamble showed visible bite marks, but didn't sent the Raiders star from the field. Some would argue Wighton was lucky not to be sent off, but the game continued with the Knights using the drama to roar back into the contest and claim a 30-28 victory in extra-time.
Both teams were exhausted after the battle. And Ponga was asked about how the fiery and controversial incident impacted the game.
And while the fullback said they could only follow the referee's instructions, it was the raucous home crowd that fuelled the team on to score the next four tries of the match. “He (Klein) just said that he couldn’t see anything. Play on,” Ponga said.
“The crowd got behind us definitely. The crowd got us home, not that incident.” Ponga turned the pressure up in the second half as he helped the home team roar back. Canberra scored in the final moments of regular time to send the match into 10 minutes of extra-time.
And after two charge down attempts, Ponga stepped-up to slot a penalty goal having been collected around the head in a tackle. While there was some contention over whether Ponga was concussed, the captain stayed on the field to secure the win.
When asked about it, Ponga said he was never in doubt of coming off the field. "I was definitely OK to make the kick," he said.
After the match, Ennis couldn't believe Wighton had been involved in an alleged biting incident. “It’s certainly out of character for Jack,” Ennis said. “Kevin Proctor was sent off for a bite... we saw it earlier this year in the NRLW... it proved a pivotal moment. When Klein made no attempt to remove Wighton from the field, it galvanised the Newcastle crowd and lifted them.
“I must say, I know Jack well, he’s a good friend, it’s out of character. But when I saw the marks, I thought it was surprising Ashley Klein didn’t take [action].” On Monday, Wighton was directed straight to the judiciary, which doesn't bode well for the future Rabbitohs star.
Parker wasn't as forgiving and blasted the fact Wighton stayed on the field. “You can see right there, there is evidence there were teeth marks on the forearm there of Tyson Gamble,” Parker said.
"How Jack Wighton was able to stay on the field I will never know. The precedence over time we’ve seen, we saw Proctor sent off, in the NRLW it was the same thing.
“We’ve seen this over time. There was clear evidence and at the time Ashley Klein said, ‘Do you want to make a formal complaint?’, he said, ‘Yes I do’ and from memory, the words coming out of Jack were, ‘What was I supposed to do?’. It was huge in the context [of the game].”
Ricky Stuart praises valiant Raiders outfit
Despite a heartbreaking loss to the Knights, Canberra coach Ricky Stuart was thrilled with his team's valiant effort. The Raiders pushed the Knights all the way, despite missing Corey Horsburgh, Josh Papalii and outside back Seb Kris.
“The performance wasn’t what everybody expected, it wasn’t what you guys expected, it wasn’t what anybody expected outside the club,” Stuart said in his post-match press conference. “That’s the Raiders DNA, what you are seeing there tonight. That’s why we are a top eight side, unlucky not to be in the top four, but not according to so many people.
“I said throughout the week, you wouldn’t have thought we were playing semi final football.. I was so proud tonight. “You wouldn’t know that we had two Origin players out and an international player but you probably would have heard about it if it was another club.
“We don’t talk about it, we just worry about the next bloke up … I was so proud of their efforts in a difficult environment.” The Knights will now take on the Warriors in New Zealand next week.
NRL Week 2 Finals schedule:
Melbourne Storm v Sydney Roosters - Friday 7.50pm, AAMI Park
Warriors v Newcastle Knights - Saturday 4.05pm (AEST), Go Media Stadium
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.