NRL superstar Kalyn Ponga could be set for a shock code switch back to rugby union, with an inevitable rise into the All Blacks on the horizon.
According to a report by the Daily Telegraph, Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika has made attempts to poach Ponga to Australian Rugby Union, confirming a recent phone call with the 21-year-old.
Cheika told the Telegraph that although no official offers were made, the interest was genuine and passionate.
However, those at Rugby Australia privately believe Ponga – should he switch to rugby union – would instead join a New Zealand Super Rugby franchise with eyes set on the black jersey.
Ponga, who cut his rugby teeth at famous rugby nursery The Anglican Church Grammar School, would be eligible for All Blacks selection having lived in Palmerston North between the ages of eight and 13.
Super Rugby franchises across New Zealand have reportedly held internal discussions about how and when an approach could be made, even though Ponga still has more than two years remaining on his current contract with Newcastle.
The report claims that third-party representatives linked to Super Rugby clubs have made quiet approaches to Ponga's manager, Wade Rushton, while Cheika allegedly also spoke with Rushton before the start of the NRL season saying, "let us know anytime Kalyn may want to come across. We'd be interested in talking to you".
Currently on a contract at Newcastle worth around $600,000 a season, clubs have stated that Ponga's value could now stand between $900,000 to $1m a season.
But shutting down hopes that a lucrative deal could turn the NRL star's focus back to the 15-man game, Ponga's father Andre said he believed his son would honour his current contract until its completion.
"I'm pretty sure he's aware what our values are and money is not important to him right now," he said.
"We've got 2020 and 2021 - we want to wait until then, to some people that might sound stupid, but that's what we believe is best for him right now.
"If it goes wrong then so be it, will be whatever value he is at the time - I know it's not the way of thinking in the footy world, but it's the way we think."
Ponga has never stated he would a return to rugby union but has spoken multiple times of an interest in his boyhood sport.
Newcastle isn't being pressured to re-sign Ponga but is aware of the increasing interest. Knights officials are though said to be "comfortable" with the situation. Rushton was not commenting yesterday.
In a Channel 9 podcast, rugby league premiership-winning coach Phil Gould was concerned Ponga could be lost to rugby union.
"Kalyn could go to European rugby and earn $2.5 million a year. God knows what he could earn at the All Blacks with endorsements and all that type of thing," Gould said.
"It's also up to the NRL, I believe. The NRL have got to assist the Knights in keeping Kalyn Ponga. He's a marquee player in our game. The NRL have got to find endorsements and opportunities for him, and make him a part of their marketing."