Proving just as elusive as he is on the field, Kalyn Ponga has side-stepped questions about his future and insists he is focused only on Newcastle’s season opener against the Warriors at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday.
Still three weeks away from his 22nd birthday, it will be the gifted fullback’s 50th National Rugby League appearance and, he hopes, the first of many milestone games in the NRL.
“I want to be here for a long time and keep playing. Three hundred games – as many as I can,” Ponga told reporters in Newcastle on Monday.
All for the Knights?
“Yeah, I’m happy here,” he said.
“I don’t know too much. I know there’s been a lot of crazy speculation, and I appreciate everyone wanting to know what I’m doing, but it’s the same thing as always and that’s the message I want to always show to my fans and the club: I just want to focus on right now.
“That’s the sort of person that I am, and I always have been, and I always will be, so I’m just excited for this weekend.”
Ponga is contracted to Newcastle until the end of 2021, and has an option in his favour for 2022.
Ponga sets new goals ahead of 50th game
The Sydney Morning Herald reported on February 25 that he was considering an upgraded four-year deal with the Knights, worth $4.5 million, which would replace his current deal and include a clause allowing him to represent the All Blacks at the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
“It’s speculation, and I don’t even know. I don’t know anything about the contract,” Ponga said.
“Like I said, if I’m going into this weekend’s game going ‘What am I doing in four years?’ [then] I’m not in the right head frame.
“For me, I’m just worrying about today, then probably what I’m going to have for dinner tonight, then I’ll worry about tomorrow.
“I’m just excited about this weekend. We’ve been working so hard for this weekend, and for the season, so that’s what I’m thinking about.
“I don’t think I was too consistent last year – I think I can do better in that area – and obviously perform really good week in, week out.
“The Knights are foremost on my mind. I want to win. I want to win a comp.”
Ponga, who has played 40 games for the Knights in the past two years after nine for the Cowboys in 2016-17, said he was unaware of the 50-game milestone until his father, Andre, told him last week.
“It’s pretty big, looking back. Obviously I’ve played a lot of my footy here and a little bit at the Cows and 50 has flown by, to be honest,” he said.
“I didn’t think I was at that number yet, but each one I get excited for. For some people it’s not many and for some people it’s a lot, but I think it’s pretty big.
“I’d like more wins, and hopefully my next 50 has got a few more in there, but I’m definitely happy. From my first to now, I’ve come a long way and I’ve enjoyed every one.”
New wave Knight: Hoy tipped for big things
Knights and Maroons team-mate Tim Glasby believes Ponga’s sublime skills often overshadowed his fierce competitiveness.
“Obviously he’s got great footwork, great passing, and he’s a very talented footballer, but the biggest thing I notice with him, he’s just a competitor,” Glasby told reporters on Monday.
“He’ll get out there and turn up when you need him to, and he plays tougher than a lot of fullbacks too … that’s probably what I love about him the most.
“The footwork and the talent, all that cool stuff you get to see, that’s the icing on top.”
Ponga is auctioning off his Queensland and Australian Schoolboys jerseys, and headgear he wore while representing the Maroons in State of Origin last year, to raise funds for the NSW Rural Fire Service and WIRES (Wildlife Information Rescue Education Services).
“We’re on the better side of it now but I think there’s still people struggling, and there’s never a wrong or right time to give to those who are struggling,” Ponga explained.
Bids can be made on the Knights website and the auction will run for two weeks.