Not about money: Ponga set to wait until 2021 to open contract talks

Kalyn Ponga is likely to wait until 2021 to open contract talks with Newcastle, with his father admitting they were in no rush to sort out his career.

The future of the Knights superstar has been a topic of great conjecture in recent weeks, with pressure mounting on the Knights to extend Ponga’s deal before rival clubs are allowed to circle.

Ponga - who is able to hit the open market on November 1 next year - is contracted to the Knights until the end of 2021 with an option in his favour for 2022, but Newcastle are keen to extend his tenure at the club.

While the 21-year-old is expected to become the highest-paid player in the game in the coming years, with some of the opinion he could demand close to $1.2 million a season, the family won’t be tempted by the dollars.

"We’ve got 2020 and 2021 - we want to wait until then," Andre Ponga told NRL.com.

"To some people that might sound stupid, but that’s what we believe is best for him. People are saying he should take it when he can get it, but in 2021 - let’s say he goes backwards, that’s what he is worth. That’s his value then. To me, that’s the reality.

"I’m pretty sure he’s aware what our values are and money is not important to him. What happens between now and then, it might sound stupid but he is that person. He is that value.

"If it goes wrong, then so be it. He will be whatever value he is at the time. I know it’s not the way of thinking in the footy world, but it’s the way we think."

Ponga, who last year triggered a representative bonus clause in his contract when he made his State of Origin debut for Queensland, is on a deal with the Knights worth arguably half of his current value.

However, don’t expect him to seek an upgrade the deal he signed to switch to Newcastle after making his Telstra Premiership debut with North Queensland.

"One thing we’ve taught him is to take responsibility for his actions," Andre said.

"If we’ve agreed to a $1, $2, $3 deal over so many years, it’s not for us now to say he’s a $4, $5, $6 player. It’s pretty simple for us. It’s pretty simple for him. He has a contract and has to honour that."

Ponga, who has just signed off on the paperwork to start building his first home in Newcastle, is happy in his current environment.

The family are also settled and enjoying life in the Hunter, placing plenty of significance on their lifestyle and happiness.

"The girls [wife Adine and daughter Kayley] are happy, Kalyn’s happy," Andre said.

"As long as my girls are happy and he’s happy, it’s more important than working out what he’s worth today and being that person and trying to live up to the worth in three years’ time. Your performances on the field are a reflection of your life off the field, and at the moment he’s happy. We’re happy.

"There’s no reason to change the formula. Don’t fix what’s not broken. We know the Knights want him yesterday. They want him on a long-term deal.

"But they are not pressuring us. And his manager is not wholeheartedly pressuring us because both parties are governed by the way we do things."

NRL.com understands Ponga’s deal with manager Wayde Rushton, who has now added Latrell Mitchell to his stable, expires after next season.

There’s speculation Ponga will move in a different direction at the end of that deal and could be part of the reason for delaying extension talks.

There’s also the potential lure of code-hopping to rugby union to try to play for the All Blacks, but it’s an idea the family once knocked on the head despite recent attempts from rugby clubs to get a gauge of his future plans.

"Kalyn could play AFL, he could play rugby," Andre said.

"In the early days we had that conversation before moving to the Knights, and back then we believed rugby was an easy option for him. Rugby wasn’t a challenge.

"But I’m sure all this talk about his future, I’m probably going to get phone conversations from people in rugby sooner rather than later."

Eagles set sights on Hill

Canterbury chief executive Andrew Hill has been linked to the Manly top job vacated by Lyall Gorman.

The Sea Eagles have a high opinion of Hill, who is understood to have turned down the job at Manly to take the role at the Bulldogs two years ago.

Hill is at the centre of Canterbury's rebuild and has been proactive in trying to restructure the club's salary cap to ensure they are competitive in the marketplace in the next 12 to 18 months.

Latrell building foundation 

The talk out of Blues camp leading into Origin I was in regards to how Latrell Mitchell seemed as happy and engaging as people have seen over the past year.

He seemed comfortable, however speculation has been rife about his well-being after returning home to Taree after Origin I.

NRL.com spoke to him on the opening day of camp, in which he spoke at length about his mental health and how he hopes attempts to sort his life out off the field would help him on it.

"I felt like I’ve grown off the field," he told NRL.com before Origin I.

"I’m starting up a little foundation to help kids pursue a dream and support what they need to do. It’s a big thing for myself. I want to make a change in my communities and across Australia.

"Something like that will give me a humble feeling. I don’t do it because I have to, I do it because I want to. I have a passion to help. I was that kid that needed help to pursue something.

"With the status I have now, I can use it in a good way. Some people take advantage of being an NRL player. I always told myself, and my dad has always told me, never walk past a kid who wants to take a photo. I never say no.

"I always say yes to kids and try to do the best I can because I was that kid once. I know that kid is going to remember it for the rest of their life. It might not ever mean anything to me, but they won’t forget it.

"I know it’s hard to get around to everyone, but [Johnathan] Thurston walked past me as a kid and that hurt me. My media lady and that, they always try and rush me into the sheds but I want to do my best to make kids happy.

"They are the next generation and they need someone to believe in. I just want to turn kids into good people and help them pursue what they want to do."

While Mitchell has a great understanding of what he wants out of both his life and his career, sometimes people struggle to turn that into a reality.

The Roosters centre, who is under pressure to retain his position for game two with a strong push for Jack Wighton to replace him, went to Taree with family after game one to help clear his head.

It’s something he tries to do as much as possible during the season.

"I like to escape from it," he said.

"I try get out to the country as much as I can, because my phone doesn’t work and I don’t get to see anything. It starts there. If things are good off field, they’re good on it."

Big price on Herman's head

There’s been quite a bit of interest in Newcastle prop Herman Ese’ese from rival clubs, however some have baulked at his price.

It’s understood the Knights are willing to part ways with the prop, as early as prior to the June 30 transfer deadline.

Ese’ese has another year to run on his contract with the Knights, believed to be worth in excess of $300,000.

The Wests Tigers were in discussions with the Samoan international but they are now set to reach an agreement with Tim Mannah, while the Bulldogs have also expressed interest in luring him back to the club where he made his NRL debut in 2015.

Twist in Mannah's Tiger tale

Tim Mannah's departure from the Eels has been delayed because the club is hopeful of still offering him a job after football.

While Mannah has asked for a release to join the Wests Tigers, the Eels still see the benefit of keeping him at the club once he hangs up the boots.

However the Eels need to go through the proper protocols to ensure it is not deemed a salary cap breach like the case of Robbie Farah and the Tigers earlier in the year.

Lodge set to reject Eels 

The Broncos are hopeful Matt Lodge will finalise his future in the coming days. The club was looking to announce his extension before this Saturday’s match against Parramatta.

The Eels have gone in hard trying to lure the prop back to Sydney, potentially before June 30, but the Broncos insist that won’t happen.

Where he ends up in 2020 is still up in the air, but both clubs believe they’ve put forward strong cases.

Dropped and shopped, Packer still a leader

While Russell Packer finds himself on the outer at the Wests Tigers, having been dropped and shopped to rival clubs, he’s still part of the team’s senior leadership group.

Interestingly Packer still attends all the meetings with the senior players and coach Michael Maguire.

Jets recruit good news for Cowboys

The North Queensland Cowboys were quietly celebrating the return of Bilal Powell to the New York Jets during the past few days.

The NFL franchise announced they’d signed the running back on a $5.5 million deal, only adding to Valentine Holmes’ list of hurdles to overcome to play in the NFL.

Powell can also play on special teams, more bad news for Holmes. The Cowboys still haven’t given up hope of Holmes joining the club after this 2019-20 NFL season, which could mean he arrives in Townsville in the middle of next pre-season should he opt to return home.

Panthers take in stray Dogs official

Penrith have hired former Canterbury Leagues Club chief executive David Brace as Panthers Group's new chief operating officer.

Brace was moved on from the club after the Lynne Anderson-led ticket got into power at the Bulldogs.

 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.