Kalyn Ponga’s contract situation has been labelled a “circus” after the Knights superstar and his coach walked out on a press conference last weekend.
Meanwhile the Knights have been urged to “remove all clauses” from Ponga’s next contract… that’s if they win the race to his signature now that the Dolphins are back in the picture.
Ponga met up with Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett earlier this month, sparking even more curiosity — and a bit of criticism too — over what his next move will be.
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He was quizzed by journalists in the press conference after the Knights’ 30-6 loss to Manly last week and attempted to shut down the questioning.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed but every time you ask I don’t give you an answer so stay patient, I’ve got people working on it. My focus is always here and you (guys) know that,” Ponga said.
“It (the meeting with Bennett obviously happened but once it happened I moved on and worried about the game.”
Until one more question — whether the losses make it harder to re-sign with the Knights — saw both Ponga and O’Brien get up and walk out.
“(I’m) not sure what they would expect because it is a circus at the moment,” NRL 360 host Braith Anasta said in relation to the walkout.
“Last week we sat here and we were talking about how it was nearly done in Newcastle but it seems to be not even close to (being) done in Newcastle and all of a sudden we could be swaying back to the Dolphins.
“It has to have an impact on his performance and the side.”
Anasta’s co-host Paul Kent agreed that it looked as though the Dolphins are back in the conversation, but also believes the 24-year-old could have handled the press conference better.
“I dare say what’s happened is that the Dolphins have read reports in recent weeks about how he’s just about done and staying at the Knights and have come back in and improved their offer. And it looks like Kalyn is having another think about it,” Kent said.
“As for that incident (in the press conference), it was a cheeky question because he had answered it several times in different ways so to me as a journalist it didn’t need to be asked again.
“But also (it just needed) a simple answer: ‘I’m committed here, the losses here have got nothing to do with my future. I’m going to move on and make a decision when the time is ready.’ And then it’s done, there’s none of this follow up that we’re carrying on with now. It’s an easy one to fix.”
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While Ponga is yet to make decision on his future, News Corp journalist Dave Riccio believes if he does re-sign with the Knights the club needs to ensure it’s a clear-cut contract with no options.
Ponga’s current contract has him signed to the Knights until the end of 2024, however he has an option in his favour for the final two seasons — and doesn’t have a deadline on when he must make a call.
“If the Newcastle Knights are serious and they believe that Kalyn is serious in them, they have to remove all the clauses out of his ongoing contract. For whatever years he’s extended, those clauses have to be removed,” he said.
“I understand that is debatable on whether that’s going to happen but if I’m at the Knights, this whole hullabaloo that comes up every 12 months, it has to stop.
“It’s an unwanted distraction that puts focus on the team, on him. He can say what he likes (but) he’s not answering the question.”
Anasta asked the panel if Ponga had delivered for the Knights since joining the club in 2018.
News Corp journalist Paul Crawley said Ponga had “certainly delivered” given he “came to the club as a rookie.” But Crawley questioned whether he has the attributes to be a marquee player.
“I just wonder, from the outside looking in, if I would want Kalyn with his attitude to be your marquee player,” he said.
“You look at a player like Billy Slater in years gone by and Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston — those sort of players that are totally devoted to being the leader of the club.
“Kalyn doesn’t strike me as that sort of personality.”
Riccio also believes Ponga has delivered for the Knights — but in a different way.
“I see delivery on a different point of view,” he said.
“I don’t think the Knights build a roster if they don’t have Kalyn in their squad. I think players attract players and the Knights have gone through an incredible rebuild from wooden spoon after wooden spoon with their roster and I think Kalyn is part of this culmination of trying to win a comp.
“Has he delivered a premiership? No he hasn’t, so that’s a failure. But I think he has contributed in other ways.”
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Kent highlighted the fact that the Knights had invested a lot into Ponga so for him to walk away now, it would be a blow for the club.
“Part of this contract was a potential payment and it was ‘mate, we know we aren’t going to see your best football during the life of this contract, we’re going to see it in the contract after when you’re a bit older and more mature as a player’,” Kent said.
“Then for him to leave the club, certainly he hasn’t obligated himself to that part of the deal. But (with) that said it’s professional game, there’s winners and losers on both sides.”
Crawley added: “The other side of that is that has the club lived up to their end of the bargain?”