Newcastle’s coach has hit out at a shock report concerning Knights star Kalyn Ponga, which could have wide ramifications for the NRL.
Newcastle coach Adam O’Brien has dismissed reports Kalyn Ponga is halfway out the door at the Knights as the star fullback’s future remains up in the air.
The Knights lost 21-16 to St George Illawarra on Sunday but all the talk after the game centred on Ponga’s contract status.
Just before kick-off, News Corp reported Newcastle had withdrawn its three-year contract extension for Ponga, which would free him up to join the NRL’s incoming team the Dolphins next season as a marquee signing.
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According to the report, the Knights had offered Ponga a five-year contract on Friday but pulled the deal because Ponga’s father, Andre, wanted authority over when the new deal would be announced publicly, not the club.
The new deal would have seen Ponga earn $1.1m to $1.2m a year.
The 24-year-old has until Round 10 to trigger an option for the remaining two years of his existing Knights contract.
Ponga could now ignore the contract clauses for 2023 and 2024 and leave Newcastle after this season.
He scored a try in an excellent performance against the Dragons and said he wasn’t feeling the pressure of his ongoing contract negotiation.
“No I don’t. I never have. I never will,” he said after the game.
“I don’t worry about it. All I am thinking about right now is the loss. Reviewing it hurts. It was a tough game.
“I know what I’m sort of feeling, but that’s between me and my management.
“I know you guys want to know what I’m doing.
“But like I respect you, I hope you guys respect that I want to make this decision on my terms … so that’s what I’m going to do.”
O’Brien was more upfront when he was asked about the reported contract withdrawal.
“Ridiculous. I had breakfast this morning and we were signing (Cameron) Munster,” he said.
“I can’t keep up with you guys, fair dinkum.
“I think he (Ponga) showed tonight why he is worth the wait. I think his performance tonight showed how committed he is to this team, and we are committed to him too.
“We’re are still going through their processes … things are tracking along.
“Certainly the way he played tonight shows his focus has been on the team.”
Ponga has been spotted meeting with Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett and after this latest development, it appears increasingly likely he is headed to the expansion club.
Such a move would open the door for the Knights to table a lucrative long-term deal to Melbourne five-eighth Cameron Munster, who is yet to re-sign with the Storm.
“It’s massive news coming out of Newcastle,” NRL great Corey Parker said on Fox League.
“We’ve been following this story for a number of weeks and it looked like it was agreed on with Kalyn Ponga and his management were going to proceed for a long period of time at the Knights.
“Now that’s been sensationally pulled from Kalyn Ponga. There seems to be some communication breakdown between Andre, who is Kalyn’s dad and the senior management at the Knights.
“It’s a huge story because there’s a flow-on effect off the back of that with the Dolphins coming into the competition next year. They need a marquee signing, they’ve made it very clear that Kalyn Ponga is going to be that man.
“Kalyn still has two years to activate on his contract but that looks highly unlikely going forward, which then opens a number of doors for a number of clubs because Cam Munster is also in that same conversation with the Dolphins.
Former Cronulla Sharks coach Shane Flanagan added: “But if Kalyn Ponga goes there first you wouldn’t imagine they can afford both of them.”
“It’s disruptive for the Knights.
“I’m sure the team today wouldn’t have an understanding of what was going on behind the scenes and without knowing the details it is a tricky one with the two-year option in his favour and the extension.
“For Newcastle I hope he stays but it does sound (like) it’s dragging on and on. We thought last week there would be an announcement and then all of a sudden there’s a backflip there.
“From a club’s point of view they can go back there and they may have put a deadline on it and they wanted to get it resolved but not good for the club or the player.”