NATHAN Brown, like most of the rugby league world, marvelled at the performance by wonder boy Kalyn Ponga on debut in the Cowboys’ sem-final win over the Broncos in September.
But it wasn’t until the Knights coach sat down with the teenager and his family that he was convinced the sweet-stepping fullback was the right fit for the club.
Ponga on Monday inked a four-year deal with the Knights from 2018 that will make him one of the highest paid players at the club on the basis of two first-grade games.
“He plays in a very important position at fullback,” Brown said. “You don’t see any teams who are very successful if you don’t have someone of decent quality. One of the keys was when you meet Kalyn and his family, you realise he comes from a very stable background. For all the attention he has had, he is a very humble kid and he likes training. Some people say it is a risk. When you look at the talent of a player and then look at their family background and them as people, you realise he is a kid who is a great long-term signing for the club.”
Brown labelled “not true” reports that Ponga was on as much as $900,000 a season.
“Kalyn is getting well paid for a kid of his talent, but not a great deal more than other clubs were prepared to pay him,” Brown said. “His contract is structured so that if he is achieving big things he will get paid well.”
The Knights have approached the North Queensland about releasing Ponga early – a move the Cowboys reportedly rejected again on Tuesday.
“As it stands, he will play with the Cowboys [in 2017],” Brown said. “He gets to play with Jonathan Thurston and Matt Scott and all those wonderful Queenslanders who have been part of a great system for such a long time and are premiership winning players. From that point of view he is only going to develop and mature before he gets here.”
Knights chief executive Matt Gidley said he understood the Cowboys’ stance.
“It's happened to us a number of times over the past 30 years," Gidley said. "We've developed players and we've lost them to other clubs, so I understand the Cowboys were probably disappointed. If the Cowboys decide to change their position, we would certainly entertain bringing him here early."
A standout in the under-20s for the past two years, Ponga made six tackle busts and two line breaks in the Cowboys’ 26-20 win over the Broncos.
“If you look at him purely from a ball-running point of view, he certainly looks like a Benji Marshall or a Shaun Johnson or a Roger Tuivasa- Sheck,” Gidley said.
Ponga admitted he had reservations about joining Newcastle before he visited the club's facilities.
"I was a bit in denial before we went (to Newcastle)," he told Seven News. "I was like, 'don't like the players, never been there, I don't like it', but we went there and everything about it just seemed like an opportunity."