BRIGHT KNIGHT: How Kalyn Ponga will look in Newcastle’s colours.RUGBY league’s hottest young talent –North Queensland dynamo KalynPonga –appears certain to join the Newcastle Knights.
The only question is when.
Ponga, the 18-year-old utility back who has played in only two NRL games, is understood to have signed a five-year contractwith Newcastle that some media outlets have reported could be worth more than $700,000 per season.
Knights officials are yet to confirm any deal, but Cowboys coach Paul Green said on Thursday that he was resigned to losing the outstanding prospect, who had also attracted interest from a host of rival NRL clubs, rugby union and AFL.
“Look, it’s early days, so there’s a [10-day] cooling-off period, but we expect Kalyn to go there [to the Knights],” Green said.
Exactly when that happens remains to be seen.Ponga is contracted to North Queensland for next seasonand Green indicated they would be reluctant to grant him an early release.
But the Knights, who have a vacancy at fullback, will no doubt explore every avenue to secure Ponga before their 2017 campaign kicks off.
“Kalyn’s contracted to us for next year, he’s part of our plans for next year and as such he’s expected to play for us,” Green said. “So I’m going to pick the best team possible and if Kalyn’s part of that then he’ll be in the team, simple as that.”
North Queensland had hoped to offer Ponga a three-year extension but Green said they could not compete with Newcastle’s unprecedenteddeal.
“There were obviously things that were important to Kalyn in weighing up his decision – things that we probably couldn’t match,” Green said.
“Newcastle are paying what they felt they were able to pay.If it came down to money we were probably never going to be in the hunt if that’s what was the most important thing, and I’m not saying it is, but clearly that’s made up part of his decision.”
Cowboys CEO Peter Parr was quoted by News Limited as saying“we are bracing for the fact we can’t compete with what’s on offer at other clubs.”
North Queensland have a host of high-profile players coming out of contract, so were never likely to be in a position to enter into a bidding war for a player who is yet to establish himself as a first-grader.
“It probably takes a bit of pressure off trying to keep some of the other big names like Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott and Jason Taumalolo,’’ Greensaid.
“We are disappointed to lose him but we have got the big picture in mind. We have a plan in place.”
Knights chief executive Matt Gidley and coach Nathan Brown declined to comment on Thursday and appear determined not to discuss Ponga until thedeal has beenrubber-stamped.
If Newcastle are unable to expedite Ponga’s release, they could be relying on a stop-gap fullback next year.
Brown said Nathan Ross, Peter Mata’utia and Dylan Phythian were being considered. He ruled out playing Queenslandstar Dane Gagai as his last line of defence.
Ponga and his family visited Newcastle last weekend and Knights officials rolled out the VIP treatment.