AUCKLAND – The world-champion All Blacks confirmed Thursday they have one of rugby league's hottest properties, Kalyn Ponga, on their radar and are ready to talk if he seriously wants to switch codes.
The 20-year-old Newcastle Knights back is Australia-born but of Kiwi parents and while enjoying a standout year in Australia's National Rugby League he has publicly mused about switching to the rival rugby union, a game he played as a child.
“If I was to go back to rugby union I'd probably want to strive for that black jumper... playing at the pinnacle has always been my goal,” he told Television New Zealand this week.
And he has a big fan in All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. “You've got to be aware of him, he's a special player,” Hansen said on Thursday.
“I quite like watching league. I've got a son that plays it,” he added, praising Ponga's “super” performance in the State of Origin series.
Hansen said that if Ponga chose to switch, “of course whoever is around at that time would definitely be interested, because he's a talented athlete”.
Should Ponga make the move and chase All Blacks fame it would undoubtedly hurt both Australian rugby and New Zealand league.
He has already rejected a call to play league for New Zealand, preferring to align with Australia.
But with rugby union, he has no wish to play for Australia where there is a shallow pool of talent compared with New Zealand.
The pathway to move from league in Australia to union in New Zealand has already been travelled by lock Brad Thorn, who played three times for the Australian national league team before switching codes and playing 59 Tests for New Zealand.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)