Ponga chose the Knights to be his own man. (Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
Ponga chose the Knights to be his own man. (Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Why the Cowboys couldn’t keep Ponga

THE Cowboys claim the club's premiership success cost them any hope of retaining Origin sensation Kalyn Ponga, ruing the financial pressures that allowed the NRL's latest superstar to slip the net.

North Queensland have come under fire for losing Maroons young gun Ponga to Newcastle this season in what is shaping as the biggest retention blunder in the Cowboys' 23-year history.

The man who first spotted Ponga at age 13, former Titans recruitment chief Jamie Mathiou, labelled him Queensland's next Darren Lockyer.

While the Cowboys have sensationally capitulated this season, fighting to stave off the wooden spoon, Ponga is the NRL's newest wonder boy following his magical Origin II debut last Sunday night.

The 20-year-old is the breath of fresh air the ageing Cowboys needed this season, but instead North Queensland have been left to agonise over the sight of Ponga carving up for the Knights.

Cowboys football operations chief Peter Parr spent months in negotiations with Ponga and his management last season.

He hit out at suggestions the Cowboys botched Ponga's retention, conceding North Queensland's maiden premiership in 2015 came at the price of losing their next big thing.

How the Cowboys could’ve done with Ponga this season. (Zak Simmonds)
How the Cowboys could’ve done with Ponga this season. (Zak Simmonds)

"To be honest, we were a victim of our own success," said Parr, the recruitment guru who poached Johnathan Thurston from the Bulldogs in 2005.

"What goes around comes around sometimes.

"The reality is the Bulldogs couldn't compete with us when we tabled a good offer all those years ago for Johnathan Thurston and this time we struggled to compete with Newcastle for Kalyn's signature.

 

"Of course we tried to keep him.

"We got him to the Cowboys when he was very young and the reason we got him there was because we knew what he was capable of.

"But when you play seven finals series in a row and a couple of grand finals and players who have been good for you get elevated in salary, it becomes hard to keep everybody.

"Newcastle had won three wooden-spoons while we played in two grand finals, so clearly they were in a better salary-cap position than we were.

"I was really disappointed when he left, but he decided to go elsewhere and everyone just has to get on with life."

The Cowboys have already had their taste of greatness.
The Cowboys have already had their taste of greatness.
 

It is understood Newcastle's five-year, $3 million offer to Ponga trumped North Queensland's package by around $1 million.

But Ponga's management denied the fullback wizard was driven by money, saying the Maroons ace wanted to step out of the imposing shadows of Thurston and Michael Morgan in Townsville.

"It was never about just the money," his agent Wayde Rushton said.

"Kalyn thought by going to the Knights, he could play his natural game. He didn't want to be seen as another Thurston, or Darren Lockyer, or Anthony Milford.

"The Knights have let him grow and come on a bit quicker than he would have if he stayed at the Cowboys."

The future of the game just arrived. (Adam Head)
The future of the game just arrived. (Adam Head)
 

Mathiou, who was scouting for the Roosters when he first saw Ponga at a schoolboys carnival in Townsville in 2011, had no doubt the youngster would play NRL.

"As soon as I saw him I thought this kid will play first grade," he said.

"He has the smarts of Darren Lockyer and the footwork of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Warriors fullback). He will play Origin for a long time."

 

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