I’ve got a confession to make. I called Kalyn Ponga this week, asking if he’d like to come work for me.
I didn’t really have a plan as to what jobs I’d assign him at Joe Frost Industries – bit of subbing, maybe some white-label content, could be anything – it’s just that, well, apparently everyone else was asking him to sign.
Why not throw my hate in the ring? I mean, kid’s a freak, you’d be a fool not to at least try.
So I was none too surprised when a media release came out on Friday afternoon entitled “Ponga statement from Knights and NRL”.
“Here we go,” I thought. “The modern-day Silvertails and head office coming after me, the small businessman. Typical.”
But, instead, the guts of it was a hands-off to Rugby Australia.
“It is inappropriate for any contact to be made from rugby union – or anyone else for that matter – and it is extremely disappointing,” Knights CEO Phil Gardner said.
For his part, NRL boss Todd Greenberg said, “Kalyn has a significant period remaining on his contract and it would be disappointing to see any contact made to any player under these circumstances.”
Fellas, I’m insulted!
By addressing the interest from Rugby Australia, you imply that the worst-run sporting organisation in the country is a bigger threat of poaching Ponga than me.
Granted, KP probably (probably) has more interest in playing rugby union than crafting copy, but he’ll be looking for typos and incorrect commas long before he wears gold.
Because, seriously, why would you play for the Wallabies when the All Blacks are an option? That’d be like deciding to play for South Newcastle rather than the Knights.
No offence to the mighty Lions – who boast such famous alumni as Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Sione Mata’utia and Ben freakin’ Simmons – but you don’t grow up in the Hunter hoping to run out onto a packed Townson Oval; you want to be cheered on by a crowd of 25,000 at McDonald Jones.
For Ponga, who is a proud Māori, it’d be the All Blacks or bust in the 15-man code. The hint was when he explicitly stated as much, having said last year, “If I was to go back to rugby union I’d probably want to strive for that black jumper, it’s the pinnacle.”
And that is what he said – not that playing for the All Blacks would be “the pinnacle of his sporting career” as News incorrectly reported this week.
So nice try, RA, but I’m in with a better shot than you lot.
That’s not to say the hottest prospect in Aussie sport is a sure thing to stay in Newcastle for his career.
The 21-year-old could have 15 years ahead of him on a sporting field and while supporters of the red and blue would mortgage our houses to ensure he sticks around, apparently money isn’t going to be the determining factor in his decision.
Which sort of makes sense, even if it blows my tiny mind.
I made the argument a few weeks ago that Latrell Mitchell would be a fool to stay at the Roosters if it was to cost him a million bucks, but Ponga looks set to pass up that kind of cash.
His father, Andre Ponga, told NRL.com this week that “money is not important” to his son.
While the Knights are reportedly keen to extend their dynamic fullback’s contract – which would logically also see his reported $600,000 a season deal upgraded to seven figures – Ponga Sr said the family want to see out the current deal before making their next move.
“To some people that might sound stupid, but that’s what we believe is best for him,” Andre said.
“People are saying he should take it when he can get it, but in 2021 – let’s say he goes backwards, that’s what he is worth. That’s his value then. To me, that’s the reality.”
That means about a million bucks going begging over the next two years, which is as clear a sign as you’ll ever get that the young gun doesn’t want to tie himself down just yet.
I’d hope like hell it’s not because he’s got an eye on a move to the Roosters or Broncos – no inside mail here folks, it’s just that they’re the clubs that awesome players have a tendency to get poached by.
And with the Wests Group lodging plans this week for a frankly amazing Knights centre of excellence – seriously, check this joint out, who wouldn’t want to play for a club with these facilities? – and the first-grade side flying high, you’d have to think Ponga will be a Knight if he does stay in the NRL.
But that’s the kicker, isn’t it? Will he stay in the NRL?
I doubt he’s made up his mind about what happens next, but as Phil Gould pointed out this week, he could make $2.5 million a year playing rugby in Europe. Andre may say money is not the deciding factor, but just four seasons at that rate sets you up for a very, very comfortable life – and ten years means your kids never have to work a day in their lives. Plus you get to have all the amazing life experiences of living in the south of France.
Or maybe KP wants to play at a legit World Cup, winning the final in front of 80,000 people at the Stade de France in 2023.
But if the latter is the case, I can assure you he won’t be doing it playing for Australia.