NEWCASTLE fullback Kalyn Ponga returned from an 11-week COVID-19 and suspension-enforced hiatus to inspire his side to a 34-18 upset win over Canberra at Campbelltown Stadium on Sunday.
The Knights' fullback scored a try himself and had a hand in three of his team's five others as they continued their unbeaten start to the season and moved to second spot on the NRL ladder.
Ponga only had to wait three minutes into his first game in 77 days to be involved in his team's first try of the game.
By all reports, the Queensland custodian has been terrorising his teammates on the training pitch since being suspended for a shoulder charge in the Knights' 42-24 win over Wests Tigers on March 22.
He had to leave the field for a HIA in the 74th minute after being sandwiched in a three-man Raiders tackle.
Captain Mitchell Pearce - who successfully shrugged off a head knock during last week's 14-all draw with Penrith to take his place in the side - told Fox Sports after the game that Ponga hadn't missed a beat at training.
"Nothing really surprises me with Kalyn and it's hard to believe he's only 22 years old," he said.
Coach Adam O'Brien echoed his captain's thoughts on the livewire fullback's ability to continually improve.
"He knows a lot about footy and is good at coaching it. His leadership qualities have been outstanding; he's direct in meetings," he said in the post-match press conference.
The Knights raced out to a surprise 28-6 lead when Ponga was involved in winger Edrick Lee's second try of the afternoon before the Raiders rallied to close to within 10 points with 22 minutes remaining.
But Newcastle appears to be made of sterner stuff in 2020 and they managed to drag themselves back into the contest and secure the two competition points.
"We had a disappointing period there in the second half, but we finished off well," Pearce said.
Teenage centre Bradman Best crossed for a double and admitted it was pleasing the Novocastrians backed up their stellar defensive effort from seven days ago against the Panthers.
"We were all sore during the week, but we came in on Tuesday and got it out of our heads (because) we wanted to make a statement; Canberra is a good side."
The Knights now face Melbourne at Central Coast Stadium next Saturday as they look to continue their unbeaten start to the season.
And Best can't wait for the challenge.
"Melbourne will be another tough game, but we're up for the challenge," he said.