One of the Broncos’ biggest blunders in their 32-year history was allowing Kalyn Ponga to slip through the net at Red Hill.
One of the Broncos’ biggest blunders in their 32-year history was allowing Kalyn Ponga to slip through the net at Red Hill.

This is how the Broncos lost a once-in-a-generation talent

It is the $220,000 contract that saw Kalyn Ponga lost to the Broncos, costing Queensland's flagship sporting club a once-in-a-generation talent.

The Courier-Mail has obtained Ponga's maiden rugby league contract that helped transform him from an unknown 15-year-old at the Broncos to a Cowboys first-grader on the path to stardom in the NRL.

Now at Newcastle, Ponga will face Brisbane on Thursday night at Central Coast Stadium, having freshly inked the $4.4 million deal with the Knights that will have Broncos scouts ruing their inability to keep the Queensland Origin ace.

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The Cowboys blew the Broncos out of the park, signing a 15-year-old Kalyn Ponga to a $220,000 contract. Picture: Getty Images.
The Cowboys blew the Broncos out of the park, signing a 15-year-old Kalyn Ponga to a $220,000 contract. Picture: Getty Images.

A multiskilled athlete as a teenager, Ponga was a Broncos scholarship holder in 2014 and rated highly by super coach Wayne Bennett when Brisbane were ambushed by their NRL arch rivals the Cowboys.

For the first time, the financial terms of the deal that delivered Ponga to the Cowboys, where he was mentored by champion playmaker Johnathan Thurston, can be revealed.

Ponga quit the Broncos after signing a three-year deal with North Queensland. For his first year in Townsville, in season 2015, he received $20,000, plus a living away from home allowance worth $7,800.

The following year, the season in which Ponga made his NRL debut, ironically against the Broncos, he was paid $85,000, plus $3000 in match payments.

In the final year of his Cowboys deal in 2017, the fullback whiz-kid was on $110,000 at age 19 before he signed the stunning $3 million mega-deal that delivered him to the Knights the following year.

Kalyn Ponga was selected to play for the Australian Schoolboy side in 2012. Picture: Lee Constable.
Kalyn Ponga was selected to play for the Australian Schoolboy side in 2012. Picture: Lee Constable.

The Broncos' recruitment-and-retention decisions have come under fire in recent times but one of the club's biggest blunders in their 32-year history was allowing Ponga to slip the net at Red Hill.

Brisbane chief executive Paul White was three years into his tenure when Ponga quit the NRL's richest club and insists the Broncos fought hard to keep him.

"He was an outstanding kid," White said.

"I remember Kalyn in our junior system, but we just weren't prepared to pay the sort of money the Cowboys offered for a guy who was still three to five years away from playing first grade.

"I actually know Kalyn's family. They were in Mt Isa when I was in the town as a police officer. I know his grandmother, so I had links with the Ponga family.

"He comes from a great family, he is balanced in every way, he is a terrific athlete to watch and he gets bums on seats.

"The simple fact is he got a knockout offer from the Cowboys.

"The Cowboys got him and that's the way it went. You can't keep everyone. You have to make good balanced decisions and we weren't in a position to compete with the money that was offered at that time for someone so young."

“You can’t keep everyone”. Paul White defends the loss of Ponga in 2015. Picture: Annette Dew
“You can’t keep everyone”. Paul White defends the loss of Ponga in 2015. Picture: Annette Dew

The 22-year-old Ponga is now focused on delivering a premiership to the Knights but yesterday recalled his early years at the Broncos when he dreamt of playing in the NRL.

"I was there when I was young during my years at Churchie (Anglican Grammar school)," he said.

"I was really young and at that age you are happy to put a jersey on for anyone.

"I was in the Broncos' Academy and was there through the juniors, but then I went to the Cowboys and I've ended up here."

The quick-stepping Ponga will be out to terrorise the Broncos tonight, motivated by his new four-year Knights deal.

"I'm really happy here," he said.

"My family has been happy here since we got here from day one. I want to win a comp, that is my main driver, it's what I really want to do and there's no other team I want to do it with than the Knights.

"When I got here two years ago, I thought we could win a comp, I have never had in my mind that we can't win. I'm just excited to be a part of the club."

 

PONGA COMES CLEAN ON ALL BLACKS RUMOURS

Queensland Origin star Kalyn Ponga has addressed speculation he was in danger of quitting the NRL to join the All Blacks before agreeing to a $4.4 million deal with the Knights.

As he prepares for tomorrow night's clash against his former club the Broncos at Gosford, Ponga scuppered speculation he was considering a big-money code switch, insisting he never once contemplated leaving the Knights.

It is understood the New Zealand rugby union had Ponga on their radar as the iconic Kiwi powerhouse looked to poach the attacking sensation who starred in the 15-a-side code as a teenager for Brisbane's Anglican Church Grammar.

Kalyn Ponga won’t play for the All Blacks but has represented the Maori All-Stars. Picture: Getty Images.
Kalyn Ponga won’t play for the All Blacks but has represented the Maori All-Stars. Picture: Getty Images.

Ponga's father Andre is a proud Kiwi, but the 22-year-old says a code defection to the All Blacks was not on his mind as he pledged the next four years to the Knights.

"The speculation (about joining rugby union) came from a comment I made three years ago," Ponga said in the lead-up to the Broncos clash at Central Coast Stadium.

"I've always been committed to the Knights, I've always said that.

"From the moment I came here, the focus was to play consistently in the NRL and now my focus is to win a comp.

"I've been here this whole time (the past two years) and I've only been focused on the Knights."

Ponga was three years old when the Knights last won a premiership in 2001. The Maroons maestro revealed he had turned to YouTube footage of the Knights' premiership parade to inspire him to break Newcastle's 19-year title drought.

"I have gone on Google and Youtubed when the (Newcastle) guys were going down the parade and I can picture myself doing that," he said.

"I say it all the time. I want to win a comp and the old boys would love to see it too.

"As a playing group we understand what it means to bring a premiership to this town. It's the main reason I signed. We have the old boys' backing and they are itching for another premiership as much as we are."

Leaving the Cowboys has allowed Ponga to transform into a genuine superstar at just 22 years of age. Picture: Zak Simmonds.
Leaving the Cowboys has allowed Ponga to transform into a genuine superstar at just 22 years of age. Picture: Zak Simmonds.

Ponga was criticised for quitting the Cowboys two years ago, despite Johnathan Thurston's appeal for him to stay, but he says he has no regrets at his move.

"There were two scenarios: one either sit behind 'Jonno' (Thurston), 'Morgo' (Michael Morgan) and 'Cootey' (Lachlan Coote) and learn for the next two years, or apply myself and actually learn myself by playing at the Knights," he said.

"I was driven by the second option and the only purpose I have now is winning a comp.

"I'm really happy here. To know that I am here until the end of 2024 is pretty exciting. It's good to get the deal done, but in saying that there is work to be done now."

Originally published as How the Broncos lost once-in-a-generation talent


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