NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 15: Kalyn Ponga of the Newcastle Knights lines up a shot at goal during round one NRL match between the Newcastle Knights and the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks at McDonald Jones Stadium on March 15, 2019 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

We’ve seen a lot of good signings through clubland over the last decade.

Cooper Cronk won two premierships in two years with the Roosters. James Maloney delivered the first premiership to Cronulla, while Sonny Bill delivered one to Bondi.

Yet one recruit has done more for his club than any other. He may not have the individual accolades or the premiership rings, but that doesn’t measure the influence of a player. His name?

Kalyn Ponga.

The highest-touted youngster in the game at the time revealed last week that he was choosing between the Brisbane Lions and the North Queensland Cowboys, but after meeting Danny Buderus and touring Newcastle, he decided to join the Knights from the 2018 season onwards.

The club was coming off three consecutive wooden spoons, no one could blame the kid if he overlooked the struggling side for greener pastures.

But it was his signature that turned the club from cellar dwellers to now premiership contenders.

It takes that one leap of faith from a superstar, a gamble, to change a team’s fortunes. And while he was only a handful of games into his career, you just knew the kid would be a star one day.

And having secured the game’s brightest young star, the dominos fell in the best way possible for the Knights.

Just days after announcing Kalyn’s signature, Newcastle had snared premiership winning and experienced Origin half Mitchell Pearce. Things were coming together.

They’d blooded some raw talent through their struggling years, including the Saifiti brothers and Lachlan Fitzgibbon, as well as signing players like Mitch Barnett, and former Origin workhorse Aidan Guerra.

It’ll started with Ponga signing on that dotted line.

And slowly but steady, as Newcastle’s roster grew better and better, stars felt more comfortable joining the club, the future looking brighter and brighter with each signature.

The likes of Connor Watson, Dave Klemmer and Jayden Brailey have not only plugged holes, but flourished at the club.

Newcastle have for years now shown off their nursery as one of the competitions’ best, however similar to the Warriors, their over reliance on their junior system has hindered them.

It was almost like a sense of pride, debuting as many local youngsters as possible, however the change of focus from development to recruitment has boosted the side’s fortunes exponentially.

And now they welcome Tyson Frizell, another Kangaroos and New South Wales star.

Frizell shapes as the last piece of the puzzle to turn Newcastle into a top four team, however where would they be if Ponga never signed there?

Would stars like Pearce, Klemmer and Frizell had the confidence to make the leap across, without real existing star power?

It’s now the same situation the Gold Coast are in, just waiting for that one superstar to sign, and others will follow suit.

While he may not be the most successful recruit in terms of winning percentage or the highest profile signing, he is the most influential signing of the last decade.

His signature opened the door for superstars to join the club, and while he hasn’t delivered premiership success to the Novocastrians yet, it only seems a matter of time with Frizell signing on.

 

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