Ponga's thickshake quip leaves sour taste
HE may be only 21 years of age, but in less than two years Kalyn Ponga had emerged as one of the most genuine breaths of fresh air in the NRL in a long, long time.
Talented, smart and a genuine disaster-free zone, the Newcastle Knights fullback had developed into one of the most marketable players in the game.
Until last week.
His 'I was at lunch sucking on a strawberry thickshake' statement concerning the resignation of coach Nathan Brown was a blight on his character.
And despite his orchestrated apology on Fox on Thursday night, Ponga either did not care a scintilla about his coach, or he has suddenly turned into a smart Alec.
Irrespective of his supposed regret, the indifference to Brown standing aside was there for all to see last weekend when Ponga and his Knights teammates were bordering on pathetic when succumbing 46-4 to the Tigers.
Not only that, images of Ponga's apparent total disinterest in a post-match dressing room address by the coach has done him few favours.
Maybe there are genuine reasons why the youngster appeared to not give a tinker's cuss that his coach of the past two seasons was leaving.
But where was the respect, the decency or the compassion that most who have been enamoured by his apparent class - displayed on and off the field - might have expected? After all - publicly at least - Brown has been a massive support for Ponga.
Just two weeks earlier the coach had assured fans his star fullback was not greedy, despite the revelation Ponga's management team was seeking a whopping $6million upgrade for the next four seasons.
If Newcastle succumbs to his demands, Ponga would become one of the highest-paid players in the history of the game, earning $1.5 million a season until the end of 2023. And that, for a player with just 46 NRL appearances.
Let us not forget that it was Brown who signed Ponga from the Cowboys - as a teenager and after a mere nine NRL games - on a $600,000 a season deal. And it was Brown who two weeks ago said "KP is a player who's not only great for the club on the field, but he's a great marketing tool and a great kid".
I wonder now, after the events of the past week, if that same Nathan Brown - one of the most-respected, fair dinkum, salt-of-the-earth people associated with rugby league - feels the same.
But we will never know because Brown, unlike some of his Knights players apparently, is a team man.
To me, the major interest in the Knights right now is not whether they win or lose their next two games. Rather, it is how those who went before them react at 3pm today when they form a guard of honour for this current team on Old Boy's Day.
I'm tipping that the toxicity might be such that Ponga's strawberry thickshake may just curdle.