Knights’ $7m double deal for Ponga and Pearce
Newcastle are preparing a bumper $7 million package to secure the long-term futures of superstar Kalyn Ponga and captain Mitchell Pearce.
Although he is just 12 months into a four-year deal, the Knights see Ponga as the new face of rugby league and are looking to kickstart negotiations on a deal that will keep him in Newcastle - and rugby league - until 2026.
Similarly, the Knights want to keep Pearce beyond when his current contract expires at the end of 2021 and are weighing up a two-year extension.
The resurgent Knights have not played finals football since 2013, but with Ponga, Pearce and the recruitment of representative forward David Klemmer, they are building a squad capable of a prolonged premiership challenge.
Ponga, 20, is under contract until the end of 2021 - with an option in his favour for 2022. He has spoken previously of his desire to switch to rugby union and play for the All Blacks.
But the Knights will show the faith they have in the Queensland Origin star by making him the highest-paid player in the club's history.
"We see Kalyn being the future face of not only the Knights, but the game," Newcastle chief executive Phil Gardner said.
The Daily Telegraph can reveal the Knights will begin negotiating a new deal spanning four or five years for Ponga at the back end of this season that would take him until he was 28.
With the retirements of Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater, and Cameron Smith's career winding down, Ponga has emerged as one player to take the mantle as face of the game.
Once the season is over, the Knights will discuss a possible two-year extension that could put Pearce on track to play 400 NRL games.
The 29-year-old has already played 253 games, and the potential new million dollar a year deals would lock Pearce and Ponga in as Newcastle's scrum base for the next five years.
"Kalyn is the future. He is the image we want not just for the club, but for the game," Gardner said.
"Not only is Kalyn an outstanding player he is also an outstanding young person. We would obviously like to have Kalyn with us as long as possible.
"I would like to think by the end of this year we would be in a situation where we can hopefully make that happen."
Re-signing Ponga - the $8 TAB favourite to claim this year's Dally M Medal - long-term would end talk of a possible switch to the New Zealand All Blacks.
"But it goes back to what Kalyn wants, what his family and management team wants and where he sees his long-term future," Gardiner said.
"If there is anybody out there, certainly in our group, that we would want to sign for a long period of time, Kalyn would be top of the list.
"There is a lot of risk out there but this kid has so much personal integrity. He is certainly someone we have the utmost respect for as a player and person and is someone we want to see at the club for a long period of time."
Gardner is also a huge fan of Pearce, a player the CEO describes as "durable and resilient". He also wants to keep the former Sydney Rooster in the Hunter.
"Absolutely. We think Mitchell has a long time in the game and has a lot to offer the game," Gardiner said.
"He is a good person and, to his credit, he is stepping up. Mitchell is a great player for us. He is showing all the hallmarks of leadership.
"I've got great confidence in Mitchell. He is a great example of telling players what not to do. He has grown and is terribly concerned about the issues that happened five, six, seven years ago. He has to distance himself from his past, quite clearly. He needs to make good decisions around who he mixes with."
Newcastle continue to rebuild and plan for the future.
"For the first time in the history of this club, we are currently working on our roster for 2021," Gardiner said.
"This club has worked on the roster the year they are in effectively for the last 10 years.
"It's a great position for the club to be in. We know where we're going."