Promising young NRL star Kalyn Ponga will reportedly remain in rugby league despite persistent speculation about a code-switch over the past two years, according to a report out of Australia.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the 22-year-old fullback is likely to remain on the books of the Newcastle Knights on a four-to-five-year deal worth $1.1 million per season.
Not only would that contract make Ponga one of the five highest earners in rugby league, but it would also nullify any prospect about a mega switch to rugby union in pursuit of an All Blacks jersey.
Reports from earlier this year suggested the Queensland State of Origin representative was looking to include an option in an updated contract that would allow him to take a sabbatical in rugby union with the aim of representing the All Blacks at the 2023 World Cup in France.
However, the Herald states that such a clause is now out of the reckoning as Ponga’s desire to win an NRL premiership with the Knights outweighs his desire to represent the All Blacks.
News of Ponga’s long-term stay in rugby league will come as a blow to rugby union followers in New Zealand, who would have been eager to see the Australian Nines dynamo don the black jersey.
Born in Western Australia, Ponga would be eligible for both the Wallabies and All Blacks in the 15-man code as both his parents are from New Zealand.
A two-time NRL Maori All-Stars fullback, Ponga also spent five years living in Palmerston North – where he won the national under-13 golf title – before returning to Australia by settling in Queensland.
The former North Queensland Cowboys youngster spurned the chance to represent the Kiwis in rugby league two years ago, instead pledging his allegiance to Queensland in State of Origin, thus affiliating himself with the Kangaroos.
Nevertheless, Ponga told TVNZ in 2018 that he was eager to represent the All Blacks in the future and hadn’t closed the door on a potential code switch.
“Obviously, that [playing for the All Blacks] would be a huge goal [that] if I was to come back to union I’d want to tick,” he said.
“I’m not too sure what my future holds — whether I’m going to stay in league or change codes – but if I was to go back to rugby union I’d probably want to strive for that black jumper. It’s the pinnacle.”
That led to then-All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen to voice his appreciation of Ponga’s talents, indicating he would be a firm contender for a place in the New Zealand national squad if a switch in codes ever came to fruition.
“He’s had a super Origin, he’s a Kiwi boy, and he’s just come out and said one day he might want to come and play rugby,” Hansen said at the time.
“If that’s his choice, when he makes that choice, then of course, whoever’s around at that time, would definitely be interested because he’s a talented athlete.”
It seems, though, union fans will have a few more years to wait as Ponga eyes Newcastle’s first NRL title since 2001.
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