Thursday, June 13, 2024

Hopping mad: Special players are special cases

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In the media this week was the report rugby league star Kayln Ponga is looking to be the next top athlete to make the code switch to union from league, in order to wear the All Black jersey.

Australian born, but eligible for New Zealand via his Maori heritage, Ponga is off-contract with the Newcastle Knights this November.

The Knights are clamouring to retain his signature and are believed to have offered a four-year contract upgrade worth a whopping $4.5 million.

The contract also comes with a ‘player option’ for 2023, effectively a get-out clause freeing up Ponga to chase his All Black’s dream (just in time for the World Cup in France).

This comes on the heels of remarks from Ardie Savea concerning a switch to the ‘foreign’ code. Whether he was serious about his ambitions or the comment was made to liven up the Ice project podcast he was appearing on (although he re-affirmed his stance on another show the following day), it got people talking.

He also won no fans in the City Of Sails league community, effectively waving the middle-finger by suggesting he would shun perennial strugglers the NZ Warriors announcing he would “go to a team that’s good…that’s dominating, like the Storm or the Roosters”.

Kaylyn Ponga has hinted on a switch to Rugby Union. Photo Newcastle Herald

Boomers, and those old-at-heart,  decried the mere possibility of it happening on that great vehicle of the everyman- talkback radio, and muttered comments about Sonny Bill Williams (the guy can’t catch a break) and his code-hopping antics that infuriated the old school and their antiquated views on professionalism.

The reality is talented young athletes now have options to experiment with other sports, thanks to contract flexibility from clubs desperate to retain them long term,. They can also simply just take a break from the sport as highlighted by recent rugby sabbaticals.

Much to the annoyance of purists, this trend shows no sign of stopping-nor should it.

Sportspeople with the ability and more importantly the will, to challenge themselves further by taking up a new sport should be encouraged. The majority of the apathetic public would probably raise only an inquisitive eyebrow should someone they know make a transition from a mechanic to a panel beater, so why is it such an issue when a sportsperson wants to spread their wings?

Conversely, Solomone Kata is a great example of a player who had to adapt or die. After a series of so-so seasons, he was released by the Warriors, followed by a repeat dose at the Storm. With his career in nosedive, he has returned to his roots in union with the Brumbies.

A schoolboy union star at Sacred Heart College, the Tongan powerhouse exercised his options and is now flourishing in his return to union with the Brumbies, starring in the early rounds including last Friday against the Chiefs, with a well-taken try and several solid carries.


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