Knights expect Ponga to be target for Stuart's Raiders

Newcastle expect Kalyn Ponga to be heavily targeted by Canberra after the superstar fullback declared he is on track to play in their do-or-die NRL finals clash.

Ponga trained without the use of painkillers on Thursday, and while there was minimal contact his shoulder is expected to be needled up for Sunday's elimination final in Newcastle.

Sidelined since he suffered a high-grade AC joint injury in round 26, Ponga is arguably the most important player for Newcastle since the days of Andrew Johns.

And at this stage, all remains on track.

"The shoulder is good," Ponga said on Thursday.

"I trained today, got everything I needed out of it. So pretty confident I am playing Sunday.

"Today was that biggest session, to tick that off gives me confidence into Sunday.

"I'll do everything I can to manage what I can leading into the game. But I do feel pretty good. I'm pretty excited about the occasion."

The Knights are confident that Ponga cannot suffer additional damage to the joint and whether he plays is a matter of pain tolerance.

Newcastle also received a boost with Lachlan Fitzgibbon (shoulder) and Jackson Hastings (ankle) also getting through the session unscathed and on track to play.

But it is Ponga who will attract the most attention.

The most important player in Newcastle's storming run from 14th to fifth on the NRL ladder, the Knights expect him to be roughed up on Sunday.

Coach Adam O'Brien said he would have no issue with that, as long as Ricky Stuart's Canberra team did not act illegally to hurt the 25-year-old.

"If I was coach, I would (target him). It's like Billy Slater when he came up against Ricky's teams, he always copped a lot of attention," O'Brien said. 

"I think he's at the top of everyone's tip sheet every week. And that's fine, I think as long as it's within the rules of the game, then it's open slather and KP understands that. 

"But if it's outside the rules, if he's going to get hit late or anything outside the rules I expect the rules to be enforced.

"I know that they will want to make this a street fight, they will want to slow it down and make it as gritty as possible."

Riding the wave of nine straight wins into the finals, O'Brien said he had not attempted to hide his team from the hype in Newcastle.

"I haven't shielded away or said it's just another week and locked them away from it," O'Brien said. 

"We've actually embraced it, especially early in the week. I think that's important that they do embrace it. 

"They feel good and understand it's great for our town to be really happy. But we also understand we've still got a job to do on Sunday."

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