The Newcastle Knights have responded strongly to reports regarding the Wallabies’ interest in star playmaker Kalyn Ponga.
According to a report from the Daily Telegraph released on Friday, Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika contacted Ponga at the end of last year asking if he could be persuaded to move back to the 15-man game, which he played during his youth in both New Zealand and Australia.
Cheika reportedly confirmed to the newspaper that he did call Ponga to discuss a potential move to union late last year.
However, the 21-year-old is under contract with the Knights until the end of the 2021 NRL season, in a deal believed to be worth around $600,000-per-year, leaving Knights and NRL officials angered that the call took place at all.
Knights CEO Phil Gardner has reportedly labelled Cheika’s approach as “inappropriate” and “extremely disappointing”, according to nrl.com, while the league’s chief executive, Todd Greenburg, has supported Gardner’s sentiments.
“It’s not surprising that rugby union have identified Kalyn as a talent they wish to get their hands on,” Gardner said.
“What does come as a surprise is that an official from their code would personally phone our talent despite the fact he has several seasons left to run on his contract.
“It is inappropriate for any contact to be made from rugby union – or anyone else for that matter – and it is extremely disappointing.
“The reality is Kalyn is under contract for another two and a half years with the option for a third year.
“Kalyn is a superb talent and quality person. He is a player we see being part of the Knights fabric for years to come. I can assure not only Knights supporters, but fans of the game, we will be doing everything in our power to sign Kalyn long-term when the time is right.”
Greenberg added: “Kalyn is a wonderful talent and a fine ambassador for Rugby League and the Knights, and it is not surprising that there would be interest in him at the appropriate time.
“The nature of this interest is certainly unorthodox. 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.”
Last year, Ponga spoke of his long-term ambitions to represent the All Blacks, despite being born and having been raised for the majority of his childhood and adolescence in Australia.
“Obviously, yeah, that would be a huge goal,” he told Marae in 2018.
“If I was to go back to rugby union, I probably would strive for that black jumper. It’s the pinnacle.
“They are the best sporting organisation in the world, stats have showed that, and the way they hold themselves, their values and their morals, just the little things they do make them that step above everyone else, so to put that jersey on would be pretty special.
“I’ve got three years with my contract at the Knights, and I’ve got some things I want to achieve in that time, and I don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of that, but I’ve always wanted to be the best, so we’ll have to wait and see.”
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