I have a small problem with the recent Kalyn Ponga situation.
First things first – I must say that I am a huge admirer of him as a player and on the surface of it as a man in the way he conducts himself, as is everyone else in rugby league but there is just one thing that really irks me.
I love the step. I love the fact he joined the struggling Knights from the high-flying Cowboys. I love that he muscled up in the middle in State of Origin. I saw the YouTube clips playing for Churchie and was amazed at his debut. I love watching him play football.
What gets me is the news that he dreams to play for the All Blacks. The New Zealand National rugby union team, arguably the greatest sporting side in the world. Given their small population and absolute domination of the game as a Kiwi it would be an honour to pull on that jersey and be a part of all it represents, except for one detail. Ponga decided he wanted to play for Queensland and Australia at representative level in rugby league.
Now, I realise that the situation is a bit complex. Born in Western Australia to New Zealander parents, moving to QLD as a young child for eight years, then spending five years across the ditch on the North Island before heading back to the Sunshine state it is understandable that one might be torn as to which nation they may want to represent.
Kalyn chose Australia.
The fact is playing State of Origin is lucrative. I’m sure lots of players would play in the game of highest intensity rugby league for free, but $30,000 in the pocket is a nice kicker and very fair given the commercial appeal that the series generates. Given there are three games without fail each and every year it is understandable that it can sway a player to choose Australia over another nation.
Money aside, pulling on your nations jersey has to be the biggest source of pride in any sport, knowing you would push yourself past your limits for the man next to you and believing they would do the same for you in the name of your homeland. If a player is already dreaming of playing for another country in a rival code I’m not really sure their heart is completely in it.
Despite all of this, perhaps it’s personal emotion of being a long-suffering NSW Blues and Wallabies fan that makes me wish such a prodigal talent would pull on the gold of Australia. I wish he dreamt of being part of the first team since 2002 to bring the Bledisloe Cup back, rather than being part of the irresistible tide that is All Black success. He is currently aspiring to play for the Kangaroos, that aside from a couple of years of lull at the turn of the decade have always been a similarly dominant force in international rugby league.
If State of Origin wasn’t around how many more players would pledge their allegiance to the Kiwi’s or smaller nations? I love that players are starting to represent their Pacific Islands nations out of choice and not as a fall-back option. International rugby league needs a boost and the best players all choosing Australia isn’t helping.
I have always held great admiration for players such as Benji Marshall, Kieran Foran and Jason Taulamlolo for choosing the Kiwis over State of Origin. Time will tell if Ponga decides to try his luck at rugby, in which no doubt he will be a success. It is not as easy road, cite Marshall in 2014, but he has the ability to do anything – he is genuinely a once in a generation talent.
I cannot wait to see Ponga pull on the green and gold and represent Australia, however seeing him then do the Haka will be difficult to take as they stroll to another 50-point walk over at Eden Park.