Kalyn Ponga change halves, Who will target Knights?, Adam O’Brien under pressure, Newcastle contract list, Knights transfers and signings

The Knights’ disastrous 2022 campaign is almost over and the club are already planning to revamp their backbone for next season.

Superstar full-back Kalyn Ponga is reportedly set to move on to half-time, with coach Adam O’Brien desperate to get more contact with his best player.

The Knights struggled to fill their void in the semis after the abrupt departure of Mitchell Pearce last summer.

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If Ponga moves to five eighths – where he played four games in 2019 – it will shake the rest of Newcastle’s spine.

Co-captain Jayden Brailey has a mortgage on the No.9 shirt, but O’Brien has crucial decisions about who will play fullback and halfback.

Newcastle’s salary cap situation means the club can only strengthen its backbone if players are moved on, according to the Daily Telegraph’s David Riccio.

“They don’t have a lot of salary cap space Newcastle Knights,” Riccio said on SEN.

“It’s spent on their attacking pack with the Saifiti boys (Daniel and Jacob), (Tyson) Frizell, (David) Klemmer, there’s a lot of money in that group, they’ve signed Jack Hetherington, Adam Elliott .

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“The Knights are in a situation where they don’t have a lot of money to spend on their backline.”

Klemmer, Brailey, Frizell and the Saifiti brothers, plus 2023 signings Hetherington and Elliott – the Knights have more than $4 million in their pack – according to the Daily Telegraph’s NRL Rich List.

Add Ponga’s $1.1m per season and Newcastle have even less money to spend next year.

The salary cap will increase to $10.5 million for the 2023 season, which means the Knights have about less than $5 million to spend on 22 players.

It means there isn’t much left to spend on another star spine player, but the Knights are reportedly eyeing Sea Eagles star Reuben Garrick to replace Ponga at fullback.

Garrick has been superb in the No.1 shirt this season since Manly superstar full-back Tom Trbojevic suffered the injury in Round 11.

Garrick has played at fullback 14 times this season and ranks fifth in yards run, fourth in points and 14th in tries.

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The 25-year-old’s salary is considered ‘winger money’ but the 91-year-old could almost double that playing at full-back.

That leaves the halfback role vacant for Adam O’Brien to complete his backbone.

Anthony Milford would have been the preferred option, but the former Bronco will move north to the Dolphins in 2023.

That leaves four options currently on the Knights’ books – Adam Clune, Jake Clifford, Simi Sasagi and Phoenix Crossland.

Clune has been the first-choice halfback this season, but he’s also been let down twice and O’Brien will be looking for an upgrade in 2023.

Newcastle have been linked with Wests Tigers star Luke Brooks but they won’t be able to afford his monstrous $1.1million price tag unless they can offload someone.

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Broncos point guard Tyson Gamble has been cleared to negotiate with rival clubs and the Knights have reportedly spoken to the 26-year-old who played halfback and five-eighth for the Broncos.

But if the Knights want to look inside, an emerging star might be the man to take charge.

Simi Sasagi has shown glimpses of talent in his 15 appearances mostly off the bench.

The 21-year-old has started twice at outside backs and his big strength is his dynamic ball travel, being able to play in multiple positions.

Jake Clifford has played 12 half-time games this season without cementing his position and is currently sidelined with a broken arm.

Clifford was a Cowboys mid-season signing last year and was seen as Newcastle’s future five-eighth – but he’s struggling to live up to his billing.

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