Whiz kid's NRL dream on hold
He's the teen sensation who was the subject of a multi-code tug-of-war and has Queensland and New Zealand fighting over his representative allegiance but Kalyn Ponga's dream of representing the North Queensland Cowboys remains on hold due to age restrictions.
Not due to turn 18 until March 30, Ponga has spent the pre-season training with the Cowboys senior squad and has caught the attention of some of the game's superstars, the quickness to which he is adapting to such company impressing players and coaching staff alike.
Ponga only made his Holden Cup debut last July at 17 years of age and went on to play eight games for the Cowboys, scoring eight tries and kicking two goals.
The quintessential flashy Kiwi with fast feet, flick pass and killer right-foot sidestep, highlights of Ponga's exploits in Brisbane GPS schoolboy rugby union have been viewed more than half a million times on YouTube.
Such silky skills would be ideally suited to the Downer NRL Auckland Nines but as he will be still 17 years of age when the tournament kicks off at Eden Park next weekend he will have to wait until 2017 before he can display his talents to the massive Kiwi crowd.
Earlier this week jack-in-the-box Jake Granville ranked Ponga alongside Gideon Gela-Mosby as the two quickest players in the club and assistant coach David Furner said that he has been making seasoned first-graders look silly during opposed training sessions.
"It's been a good pre-season for 'KP'," Furner said with a wry grin.
"He's caused our team a lot of trouble too. He's got such good footwork and he's got a lot of speed.
"Not only is he enjoying the training but he's enjoying contesting against 'Jono' (Johnathan Thurston) and Kane Linnett and Michael Morgan.
"He's competing against our best."
Ponga will be eligible to play in the NRL once he turns 18 at the end of March but under recommendations submitted as part of Shane Richardson's 'whole of game' strategy, future wunderkinds will be unable to play in the NRL until the year in which they turn 19.
A premiership-winner at just 22 years of age, Cowboys back-rower John Asiata has no doubt that when the time comes Ponga will adapt quickly to the demands of playing in the NRL.
"Kalyn Ponga is one outstanding kid. He's a superstar for the club," Asiata said.
"He's trained really hard and he's got to earn the spot to be able to play in the NRL. The way he's going that's the way he's heading.
"If the time comes for him to take the field, he'll be ready.
"All the young boys are really good. They buy into everything the experienced players tell them and the coaching staff and they're training really well.
"They don't look out of place. They're doing their job and training to the best of their abilities."
That Ponga has handled a gruelling pre-season schedule at such a young age is further testament to his athletic ability as the Cowboys seek to build on the premiership-winning performance of 2015.
With a busy pre-season schedule that for the first time includes a trip to England to contest the World Club Challenge against Leeds on February 21, the Cowboys players are now in the final few days of the conditioning aspect of the pre-season.
Ahead of an opposed session on Friday Furner said that some of the players were 'red-lining', which means that the North Queensland high performance unit is pushing them to the boundaries of their physical capabilities without tipping them over the edge.
"[Red-lining] is the point there where we can push them as far as they can go and to make sure that they're right to train the next day," Furner explained.
"It's probably pushing them to the ultimate limit and it's all measured. I know the HPU guys have got that well measured so when we coaches talk about red-lining that's pushing players to their limit and still be able to back it up the next day.
"We are getting to the phase next week where we need to work out what team is going to the Nines, what team is going trialling against Brisbane so that's something we'll work out early next week."