Newcastle Knights signing Kalyn Ponga best since Andrew Johns

Ryley Jacks of the Melbourne Storm tackles Kalyn Ponga of the North Queensland Cowboys at the NRL Auckland Nines. Photo/Photosport
Ryley Jacks of the Melbourne Storm tackles Kalyn Ponga of the North Queensland Cowboys at the NRL Auckland Nines. Photo/Photosport

North Queensland Cowboys' Kiwi-eligible wonder boy Kalyn Ponga has been given the supreme compliment that he is Newcastle's best signing since the great Andrew Johns.

And it comes from someone who should know - Johns' brother Matthew.

Matthew Johns believes Ponga, the precocious 18-year-old who will join the Knights at the end of this season, can help turn around the fortunes of a club struggling desperately in the wake of Nathan Tinkler's failed ownership stint.

"Newcastle have struck gold by signing young Ponga," said Johns, preparing to launch the 24-hour Fox League channel on Fox Sports this month.

"He is a mega-talent. He will draw other people to the club, plus supporters.

"Kids absolutely love him, he has is exactly what we have needed. He will be the best signing since Joey [Andrew Johns]."

Andrew Johns, who played 23 State of Origins and 24 tests for Australia, is considered one of the game's finest ever players.

Ponga is currently the subject of a tug-of-war between New Zealand and Australia for his service at international level, with the temptation of playing State of Origin for Queensland probably leaning him towards the Kangaroos.

"I've never met Kalyn, but people like [Knights CEO] Matt Gidley says he has incredible self-belief and a champions temperament," said Matty Johns. "My hope now is that they can land Matt Scott as well, a big guy to play beside him.

"If that is the case, I think you will dramatic improvement. Things will really start to happen."

Ponga has signed with the Knights on a five-year, $3 million contract, an extraordinary figure given he has played just two first-grade games but one which some judges feel will be swiftly justified.

That contract and the $6 million deal signed by Ben Hunt to join the Dragons have been major off-season talking points, but Johns believes they were gambles both clubs had to make.

"It is a good move for the Dragons, because even though the salary cap is in place the gaps between the haves and the have nots seems to be getting greater," he said.
"When you are really struggling like Newcastle and the Dragons have been, you need a circuit breaker - someone who you will have to pay overs to, but you hope they can turn the place around.

"I think they had to bite the bullet. For Benny Hunt, it is going to be hard work.

"There is a lot of pressure there, I hope he can handle it. He is a terrific young bloke, but when they are offering that sort of money ... I mean really who can begrudge him signing it?"

- news.com.au

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