‘Filthy’: NRL star reveals Thurston betrayal
STAR Newcastle signing Kalyn Ponga has opened up about the moment he had to tell mentor Johnathan Thurston he wanted out of the Cowboys.
The teenage prodigy, who was famously hunted by rugby league and AFL scouts before committing to the Cowboys will finally make his long-awaited debut for the Knights this pre-season after signing with the Newcastle club in November, 2016.
The 19-yeard old talent was the most sought-after teenager in rugby league before reportedly agreeing to a $3.5 million, five-year deal with Newcastle.
His decision to walk away from the Cowboys left North Queensland captain Thurston devastated - and the four-time Dally M player of the year wasn't afraid to show it, Ponga has revealed.
In an interview with NRL.com, Ponga said Thurston went to extraordinary lengths to convince him to stay in Townsville.
It wasn't easy telling the Queensland legend he wanted out when his contract expired at the end of the 2017 season.
"He was obviously filthy," Ponga said.
"But I decided to take my own path. I think he understands."
Ponga told the NRL Thurston had been calling him from England during the 2016 Four Nations in one last bid to convince him to stay.
"He cares about me," he said.
"He had me under his wing for the last two years up there. He was just a bit worried about me."
Thurston said he was sad and shocked by Ponga's decision.
"He's one of the most talented kids I've seen come through. He was doing things here that no one else can do.
"He's very Matty Bowen-like in his footwork and skill level. I was pretty sad to see him go."
His recruitment was the first domino to fall in Newcastle's bumper recruitment drive for 2018.
The Knights have since gone on to sign Slade Griffin (Storm), Aidan Guerra (Roosters), Chris Heighington (Sharks), Jacob Lillyman (Warriors), Tautau Moga (Broncos), Connor Watson (Roosters) and Mitchell Pearce (Roosters).
Ponga is hoping to turn Newcastle's fortunes around after another wooden spoon season in 2017.
He's also expected to push for Queensland and Kangaroos representative honours in coming years after last month confirming his allegiance to Australia, despite an extended family from New Zealand.
He was last month named as one of 11 players in the 2018 Queensland Emerging Origin Squad
"I've always felt comfortable at heart here in Australia. I was born here and did my schooling here," Ponga told The Courier-Mail.
"To be honest it wasn't really that tough. I knew at heart that I wanted to pledge my allegiance to Queensland and Australia.
"My family, which is very important to me, didn't find it tough but I had to get their acceptance and I did that. Now that I've made my allegiance clear, I am happy with it.
"I've got a very big family. My dad (Andre) has got eight brothers. I said to them that I wanted to pledge my allegiance to Australia and Queensland and they were supportive which was awesome. It made it easier for me."