Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has had a personal discussion with Newcastle superstar Kalyn Ponga about a switch to Rugby Union.
Cheika told The Daily Telegraph that he had made a direct phone call to the fullback, as the Wallabies ramp up preparations for September’s World Cup.
However, Cheika would not divulge any further information regarding the conversation.
The phone call is not the first time the Wallabies coach has expressed interest in the 21-year-old.
The Daily Telegraph’s Dean Ritchie reports that prior to the 2019 NRL season, Cheika had held a meeting with Ponga’s agent Wayde Rushton, telling him to “let us know anytime Kalyn may want to come across (to Super Rugby). We’d be interested in talking to you.”
Born in Port Hedland, Western Australia, Ponga lived on New Zealand’s North Island as a child and would be eligible to represent either Australia or New Zealand at international level.
The young star had previously expressed interest in representing the All Blacks in the future.
Ponga is contracted with the Knights until the end of 2021, on a deal worth roughly $600,000 per season.
On a Channel 9 podcast, legendary rugby league coach Phil Gould said that he believes that Ponga “could go to European rugby and earn $2.5 million a year.”
Gould believes that the onus falls on the NRL to support Newcastle in retaining the in-demand fullback as he is a “marquee player” in rugby league.
But a source close to Rugby Australia has stated that “there would be no embarrassment in trying to get Kalyn Ponga to rugby union. That would be smart.”
Newcastle has released a statement on Friday afternoon, pouring cold water on the report.
“It’s not surprising that rugby union have identified Kalyn as a talent they wish to get their hands on,” Newcastle CEO Philip Gardner told newcastleknights.com.au.
“What does come as a surprise is that an official from their code would personally phone our talent despite the fact he has several seasons left to run on his contract.
“It is inappropriate for any contact to be made from rugby union – or anyone else for that matter - and it is extremely disappointing.
“The reality is Kalyn is under contract for another two and a half years with the option for a third year.
“Kalyn is a superb talent and quality person. He is a player we see being part of the Knights fabric for years to come. I can assure not only Knights supporters, but fans of the game, we will be doing everything in our power to sign Kalyn long-term when the time is right.”