Revealed: How close Ponga was to joining AFL
Kalyn Ponga is rugby league's man of the moment - and the future.
For many years he was league's star on the rise but after just one full season of first grade he is well established as one of the game's best players and his career is heading in new directions off the field as he joins Fox Sports.
Today the Newcastle and Queensland State of Origin star, who also shone at AFL, golf, and rugby union as a youngster, talks about how he almost joined the Brisbane Lions, his old days of schoolboy rugby in Brisbane, why he doesn't get nervous before big games and why he has a permanent reminder of his late brother Kacey tattooed on his leg.
RC: Let's start with your sidestep. Where did you learn that?
KP: I watch a lot videos when I was younger of Benji Marshall around 2005. He was incredible. Just insane.
You've played so many sports but do you ever watch one on television and think "I would have loved to have had a crack at that''?
Yes. American sports. I would have loved to have played basketball. They are so cool over there (in the NBA). Everyone is allowed to dress how they want.
Did you ever have a decent crack at basketball?
Not really, I tried it but I was no good.
Who do you think is the best player in the NRL younger than you?
AJ Brimson is my age (20) and had a good year last year and Payne Haas ... it's insane how good he is given his age. He is big, powerful and pretty impressive.
Before you signed with Newcastle the Brisbane Lions had a real dip at you didn't they. Was it a close thing?
It was pretty close. Up until the Knights came along I was pretty close to going to AFL. It was definitely the path I looked at.
Did you have a contract from the Lions?
I am pretty sure it was ready to be signed, yeah.
Did you ever have the pen in your hand hovering over the contract?
No, but it was close.
What attracted you to AFL and what position would you have played?
I have no idea what position I would have played. It was more that I was attracted to the challenge. At the time I was not enjoying my footy that much and was looking for a change.
Can you remember the exact moment you decided that Newcastle was the club for you?
When I visited the place the whole environment just felt comfortable. I just felt good about moving here. There were a lot of positive people involved in the organisation. That was the main reason why I moved. They gave me the opportunity to be a first grader and that was also a factor. It felt like home when I was here.
Do you get treated like a rock star in Newcastle?
No, the fans are very relaxed and we don't get hassled at all. Occasionally you get stopped for a photo but that's good.
It must have been tough work telling guys like Johnathan Thurston you were leaving the Cowboys and it sounded as if he was pretty disappointed?
I remember he sent me a text with his point of view. Obviously he wanted me to stay but he could understand why I left and I think now he is happy for me.
Your father spoke so well about how you have been inspired by the memory of your brother, Kacey, who tragically drowned when you were very young. How has that impacted on you?
My family really inspires me a lot and I think they always will.
And you have a bumblebee tattoo on left ankle in memory of Kacey. What is the significance of that?
The bumblebee was his favourite toy and for me it symbolises him.
There's coaches in the Brisbane school system who tell stories that you were the boy used to often pick up the witches hats after training. Can you remember doing that?
It was the environment I grew up in. Even at Churchie that was the big thing ... respect. Those things are not hard to do.
Were you a good student or did you spend your day thinking about running and tackling?
I used to struggle a little bit with schooling, especially at Churchie because their standard is so high.
There's a video clip on YouTube of your First XV GPS highlights at Nudgee and it just seemed like big stuff.
It is a pretty classy school and it was good me for me in ways outside sport. Union was valued very highly at school. At the time you think it is the be all and end all and I really enjoyed it. Then you leave school and play under-20s and the grades and it probably does not seem as big as it was.
What was your favorite memory of GPS football?
We beat Nudgee in a big match and I remember scoring the first try and listening to the crowd get right behind me. It was a great feeling.
What about your golf career including being New Zealand under-13 champion. Your father said golf taught you about etiquette and manners. Do you agree?
I enjoyed golf. I was one of those kids who just played everything. I was really focused on golf for a while and wanted to be a professional golfer but when we came to Australia it was too hot and I changed my mind. But golf was good for me. It taught be etiquette and being an individual sport it built me up mentally.
What was your best round?
It was not under par but not too many over.
You play like you spend your childhood in the backyard and well away from computers yet you have said that playing computer games helps you relax. Is that right?
Yes, it does help me relax away from the game and chill. I don't really take a lot of things too seriously
Is there any advice you would have for young sportsmen?
Make sure you surround yourself with positive people who have your best interests at heart. That has helped me along the way.
Do you get nervous before games?
No, not really.
Not even Origin?
No I didn't. It was a bit weird but all I really felt was excitement.
When you were young who was the poster on your wall, the man you wanted to be?
I never aspired to be like anyone or had a singular person I looked up to. I just loved my sport.