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Kalyn Ponga expresses 'commitment' to NRL as he pulls plug on All Blacks dream

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Peter Lorimer/Getty Images)

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NRL star Kalyn Ponga claims he has pulled the plug on his All Blacks dream after expressing his “commitment” to rugby league with a new long-term Newcastle Knights contract.

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Ponga ended widespread speculation of his playing future last week when he announced a five-year contract extension with the Knights.

That will keep the league fullback in the NRL until 2027, effectively killing off any hope of a cross-code switch to rugby union for the foreseeable future.

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Ponga had previously ben the subject of a possible move to union as he had a clause in his previous Knights contract that gave him the option to leave in the final two years of his deal to try and play for the All Blacks at next year’s World Cup.

Born in Australia to a Kiwi father of Maori descent, the 24-year-old also spent five years of his childhood in New Zealand and told TVNZ four years ago that he harboured ambitions to one day play for the All Blacks.

That prompted former All Blacks boss Sir Steve Hansen to publicly state his interest in Ponga’s services, but the Queensland State of Origin star has quashed that as a prospect with his new contract, thought to be worth in excess of A$1m per season.

More than a week after inking his new contract, Ponga has opened up on the clause in his previous contract that would have allowed him to pursue as place in the All Blacks squad had he opted to swap codes.

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Speaking on Australian radio station Sportsday NSW, the Maori All-Stars representative said he is committed to league, but claimed he couldn’t be faulted for having an exit clause in his previous Knights deal as whispers lingered about a switch to union.

“This five-year deal shows my commitment to not only the Knights, but rugby league,” Ponga said.

“It shows I want to do good things in rugby league and achieve some goals that I have. There’s always been that cloud over what I’m going to be doing because of the options I’ve had in my contract.

“You can’t fault me for having options in a contract. Five years is permanent and it’s exciting for me.”

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In an interview with TVNZ in 2018, Ponga described the All Blacks as “the best sporting organisation in the world” and said “it would be a huge goal” of his to play for them if he decided to move to union.

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“Obviously that would be a huge goal, if I was to come back to union,” the former North Queensland Cowboys prodigy and Australian Nines representative said at the time.

“I’m not too sure what my future is going to hold and whether I’m going to stay in league or change codes, but if I was to go back to union, I would want to strive for that black jumper.

“I think it’s the pinnacle. They are the best sporting organisation in the world, the stats have showed that.

“The way they hold themselves and their values and it’s just the little things that they do that make them that step above everyone else.

“To put that jersey on would be pretty special.”

Hansen, who was in charge of the All Blacks when Ponga made those comments, responded by saying he would have been “definitely interested” in Ponga, who he described as a “special player”.

“You’ve got to be aware of him, he’s a special player,” Hansen said in the lead-up to the second 2018 Bledisloe Cup test in Auckland.

“I quite like watching league, I’ve got a son that plays it and therefore interested in it.

“He’s had a super Origin, he’s a Kiwi boy and he’s just come out and said maybe one day he might want to come and play rugby.

“If that’s his choice, when he makes that choice, then of course whoever is around at that time would definitely be interested because he’s a talented athlete.”

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