Australia and Queensland have beaten out New Zealand for teenage sensation Kalyn Ponga’s representative allegiances, according to his club captain Johnathan Thurston.
The 18-year-old – who made an eye-catching NRL debut on the wing for the Cowboys in their epic semi-final win over the Broncos – is eligible for the Kangaroos and Kiwis, and has been courted by the trans-Tasman rivals in recent years.
The WA-born prodigy qualifies for New Zealand through his father Andre, who is of Maori descent. The Ponga family moved to Mt Isa when Kalyn was a child – qualifying him for the Maroons under the current eligibility criteria – while he spent five years in Palmerston North, NZ, from the age of eight.
The Kiwis invited Ponga, then just 17, to an Auckland training camp prior to their tour of England last October, before he was included in the QAS’s Under-20s extended squad in January this year as the tug-of-war ramped up.
Ponga elected not to represent the Junior Kiwis or Junior Kangaroos – who both wanted him – until he had made up his mind.
But Thurston, in Auckland to help promote the 2017 NRL Nines, revealed the battle for Ponga’s services are all but over.
“I think he’s leapt towards the Kangaroos,” Thurston told New Zealand website Newshub today.
“He pretty much made (the decision) on his own. His family’s from here in New Zealand and he’s spent most of his time growing up in Queensland.
“He feels as though he’s an Aussie, he feels as though he’s a Queenslander, and I think that’s what got him over the line.”
Ponga has set the NYC alight over the past two seasons, before injuries afforded him a first-grade call-up for the defending premiers last month.
The freakishly talented youngster was chased by several clubs across Australia’s three main footy codes – rugby league, rugby union and AFL – largely thanks to his mind-blowing performances for renowned Brisbane rugby nursery Churchie’s 1st XV.
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