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Kalyn Ponga Dolphins blow: Knights star to reject Wayne Bennett approach, NRL, All Blacks

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Knights superstar Kalyn Ponga’s father, Andre, has delivered a hammer blow to Wayne Bennett and cross-code heavyweights the All Blacks.

Kalyn Ponga’s father has given the strongest indication yet the Queensland Origin star will not quit Newcastle or the NRL in a blow to Wayne Bennett’s hopes of luring the Knights ace to the Dolphins.

In his most revealing interview, Andre Ponga ruled out a code defection for Kalyn to play for the All Blacks, with the Andrew Johns factor set to keep the Maroons whiz in Newcastle beyond this season.

Ponga’s future in rugby league is one of the biggest talking points of the 2022 premiership.

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While the NRL superstar is contracted to Newcastle until the end of 2024, he has an option in his favour for the final two years, meaning Ponga could technically walk out on the Knights at season’s end.

Expansion newcomers the Dolphins have already held talks with the Ponga camp, while the Newcastle dynamo has previously raised the prospect of testing himself with the All Blacks, New Zealand’s sporting flagship.

But in the build-up to the most critical campaign of Ponga’s career, his father Andre said the 23-year-old plans to stay loyal to Newcastle, buoyed by the return of club legend ‘Joey’ Johns in a mentoring role.

“Andrew Johns coming back is massive and that is a huge factor for Kalyn,” Andre told News Corp.

“We know Kalyn has options, but all the talk about who is interested in him and what could happen, it’s not relevant really.

“He hasn’t put himself forward to play for the Maori All Stars, so that’s a good example of Kalyn’s commitment to the Knights.

“He wants to be the best he can be in 2022.

“Kalyn is very happy at the Knights. He is very close to their recruitment chief Clint Zammit, he first signed Kalyn and has played a big role in his career, and having ‘Joey’ at the club will be huge for his development.

“The main reason to stay in Newcastle is to win a premiership. Obviously, it’s a team sport and everything has to align, but Kalyn believes he can win a premiership at the Knights.

“We’re in no rush (with his contract). We don’t have to make a call by July.

“If you look too far ahead in this game, the ‘now’ part doesn’t happen. Kalyn is chasing that premiership. He wants success for Newcastle.”

Privately, the Dolphins believe they face an uphill battle under the salary cap to poach Ponga. He is on more than $1 million at the Knights and Bennett would have to outlay around $1.3m to have any hope of luring Ponga to Queensland’s fourth NRL team.

Asked if Ponga is weighing up playing for the Dolphins, Andre said: “It’s a good question. Kalyn has to weigh up whether he could win a premiership with a new club like the Dolphins. They have signed a few experienced players like the Bromwich boys and Felise Kaufusi.

CAPTAIN PONGA: Knights hand superstar the reigns

“But when you have a mentor like Andrew Johns … how do you walk away from that?”

The one certainty is Ponga will not embark on a career switch with New Zealand Rugby.

That revelation will be music to the ears of ARL Commission boss Peter V’landys and NRL CEO Andrew Abdo at a time when rugby league needs blue-chip superstars like Ponga to promote the code.

“No, rugby isn’t an option,” Ponga Snr said.

“With Covid, you have to strip everything back to simplicity now. Nothing is for sure these days with travel and Kalyn is at that age where he wants some stability,

“Rugby has changed so much in the world with Covid since we did Kalyn’s contract in 2020.

“The rugby conversation isn’t really an issue. He has goals he wants to achieve in the NRL. We aren’t thinking about it to be honest.”

It was reported recently that Andre had secured a job with the Knights. It was viewed as a shrewd tactic by the Knights and a sweetheart deal to ensure Kalyn stayed loyal to Newcastle.

“I can understand people saying it’s a conflict of interest,” said Andre, who works in a mentoring capacity with Newcastle’s NRL women’s team.

“The truth is I had finished up with my mining job and I had time to help out.

“I thought, ‘Is it the right thing?’ I spoke to Kalyn and he said if it’s the right thing to do, then he’ll back me up.

“I can tell you now – it’s a voluntary role. I don’t get paid. I help out the Knights’ women’s team with some mentoring for the girls who come here from New Zealand.

“Relocation can be tough for some of them and I’ve moved from New Zealand myself, so that’s all it’s about, helping them in that mental space.”

Ponga is tipped to win the Newcastle captaincy and Andre says he would relish the job.

“If he got the captaincy, he would give it 100 per cent,” he said.

“It would be a prestigious role if he gets it and it would come with huge responsibility, but I think Kalyn would embrace it. They are a pretty young group so I think the other Knights boys would be supportive if Kalyn was captain.

“It’s not a job Kalyn would take lightly.”

Originally published as Knights star Kalyn Ponga’s father delivers signing blow to Dolphins, All Blacks

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