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Ponga's player options a possible clause for concern at Knights

A two-year player option in Kalyn Ponga's multimillion-dollar Knights deal raises the possibility of him re-entering the player market in 12 months' time despite re-signing until 2024 earlier this year.

In the NRL's updated 2021 top 30 squad lists, which were announced on Thursday after each club had to submit at least 24 players by November 1, the four-year extension Ponga inked in June has options in his favour for 2023 and 2024.

Ponga is the biggest of several names who have player options in the latest contract lists, with incoming Knights recruit Tyson Frizell's three-year contract also containing an option for 2023.

Parramatta's Mitchell Moses, Ryan Matterson and Michael Jennings, who is serving a provisional suspension after allegedly testing positive to a banned drug, also have options in their favour for 2022 which effectively means they can already negotiate deals for that season.

Ponga's options however are the most eye catching given he was expected to be tied to the Knights for the next four years.

There is no suggestion the injured Maroons star has explored his long-term options, and he has spoken repeatedly of his happiness in Newcastle and desire to end their premiership drought which stretches back to 2001.

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Knights CEO Phil Gardner was unable to be reached on Thursday and a club spokesperson told they were "not keen to discuss recruitment and retention at this time".

Ponga's manager, his father Andre, also did not respond to requests for comment on his son's contract.

The timing of Ponga potentially becoming a free agent again – if he does not take up the player option he could field rival NRL offers from November next year – will also raise suggestions of rugby World Cup switch once more.

When Ponga's lucrative deal - understood to be worth more than $1 million a season - was announced, Gardner said there was no "All Blacks clause" in the 22-year-old's contract.

The next rugby World Cup is due to kick off in September 2023 and was the 15-player code's strongest lure when Ponga weighed up his future earlier this year.

His contract options still provide the flexibility to consider such a move, however unlikely it would seem.

Breaking into an esteemed set-up such as the All Blacks off the back of one season in the code to play in the World Cup would also be a tall order, although Ponga does have an impressive rugby union pedigree.

"It's no secret I want to win a comp in Newcastle, I want to hold the trophy up here," Ponga said at the time of his re-signing in June.

"We're building towards something and I can definitely feel it. It's something that I want to be a part of and I'm excited to be a part of.

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"There was a lot of talk in the media about rugby union but I've always said I'm focused on the Knights and have been since I walked in the door."

Ponga has been pursued by Super Rugby clubs on both sides of the Tasman previously, while a call from former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika to gauge his interest was met with a sharp rebuke from Newcastle 18 months ago.

At that time Gardner said he regarded the Broncos as a greater threat than rugby union. Were Ponga to enter the player market again few players could generate as much demand given his on and off-field status, marquee position and age.

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