KNIGHTS chief executive Philip Gardner says standing Kalyn Ponga down for the rest of the season will be a small price to pay if it allows the club's most valuable player to eventually resume his career.
Ponga faces the prospect of sitting out the last six games of 2022 - and potentially the end-of-season World Cup - after suffering his fifth head knock in the space of five months during Newcastle's 42-12 trouncing by the Sydney Roosters last Friday.
The Queensland Origin dynamo will be guided by the advice of neurologist Professor Chris Levi but appears almost certain to need a time-out.
Gardner said he was "absolutely" concerned the spate of concussions could become career-threatening, adding that the Knights would go above and beyond any medical advice to safeguard their skipper's well-being.
"We're very concerned, and Kalyn's welfare is right at the forefront of what we're doing," Gardner told the Newcastle Herald. "Given where he's at, it's looking like he'll need a break.
"How long a break he needs will be determined by the advice he receives from his specialist, but whatever is recommended, we'll add another layer of caution to that.
"Hopefully after a substantial lay-off, he'll be able to continue playing with no further issues.
"It's a small price to pay."
Gardner said that as well as their duty of care to Ponga, the Knights needed to send a message to all members of the rugby league community.
"We have to look after people," he said. "If kids want to play the game, their mums and dads will want them to play for clubs who take care of their welfare."
The Knights took a similar approach in 2017 with Ponga's former teammate Sione Mata'utia, who had suffered a recurrence of concussions over a 12-month period.
Mata'utia sat out the last two NRL games of that season and was declared unavailable to represent Samoa at the 2017 World Cup.
He recovered to play in 60 games for the Knights over the next three years, before linking with St Helens in Super League, where he has spent the past two years.
Languishing in 14th position, the Knights are out of the finals race and a host of commentators - including Newcastle coaching consultant Andrew Johns - agree that there is no point in risking Ponga again this year.
The 24-year-old recently signed the most lucrative deal in Knights history, a five-year contract extension reported to be worth in excess of $1 million a season.
He has been taken from the field for head-injury assessments at least 10 times over the past four seasons, including five this year.
Ponga's first HIA of the season was against Manly on April 7, followed by another 17 days later against Parramatta.
In both instances, he was cleared to return to the field.
On June 12, he was involved in a brutal collision with Penrith forward Viliame Kikau and failed his HIA.
He played for Newcastle against Canberra a week later but the Queensland fullback was dazed in a Nathan Cleary tackle during Origin II on June 26. On that occasion, he was ordered to miss Newcastle's next match, against Gold Coast Titans, under the NRL's mandatory stand-down protocols.
In Ponga's likely absence, Knights coach Adam O'Brien will weigh up the merits of Tex Hoy and Anthony Milford as his replacement for Sunday's clash with Canterbury at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Hoy has deputised in six NRL games this season, but Milford filled in as a stopgap measure when Ponga was replaced against the Roosters.
Meanwhile, there are fears Knights back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon may also have played his last game of the season after suffering a shoulder injury on Friday night.
Fitzgibbon has already undergone two bouts of surgery on the same shoulder.
Knights CEO Philip Gardner says Kalyn Ponga's long-term welfare is a priority after spate of concussions
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