Thursday’s Rugby news sees Ponga jumping between codes, a former Wallabies long walk to recovery, the first season of Global Rapid Rugby launches in Perth, and Aussie Super Rugby teams still in the hunt.
It is being reported that Knights fullback Kayln Ponga has been offered a four-year, $4.5 million deal to stay in Newcastle.
The big talking point though, is that the Knights are so desperate to keep him that the contract reportedly includes a cross-code clause, which allows Ponga an option to try his hand at Rugby Union at the next Rugby World Cup in France, taking place in 2023.
“I’d be really surprised if the All Blacks weren’t talking to him now, that’s the kind of talent we are talking about here,” Newcastle chief executive Philip Gardner told The Sydney Morning Herald.
“He could play for the All Blacks, the Wallabies, or he may end up going to Japan or Europe. We genuinely want the best for the young man and while ever he wants to play rugby league, we want him to play here at Newcastle in an environment he enjoys.”
The former Schoolboy rugby star, who graduated from renowned Brisbane powerhouse Churchie, was previously sought out by Wallabies coach Michael Cheika. At the time, the Knights were indignant over the approach, but now appear to bending over backwards to accommodate Ponga’s desire to play for the All Blacks.
Ponga was born to New Zealand-born parents, and is of Māori descent. “If I was to go back to union, I would want to strive for that black jumper,” Ponga previously told TVNZ.
“I think it’s (playing for the All Blacks) the pinnacle. They are the best sporting organisation in the world, the stats have showed that.”
In this weekend’s first game of round 5 for Super Rugby, the Rebels take on the Highlanders, as they aim to continue the cross-Tasman dominance Australian rugby has been enjoying for the last week.
The Rebels will welcome back Jordan Uelese for the match. This will be Uelese’s first Super game of the year following his injury at the World Cup.
Toomua returns to the flyhalf position, with Deegan dropping to the bench. I’m still sceptical of Toomua as a ten, and Friday night’s game will be a big test for him.
This game will be followed by the Tahs playing at BankWest Stadium against the Lions. Will Harrison will again get the nod at flyhalf, with Penney putting his faith in the youngster. But the coach has sounded a warning to the winless side.
“I’ve got a side of me that’s nurturing, that has a degree of empathy for the young blokes and the position they’re in but that’s not bottomless and there’ll be a point if things don’t improve that changes will need to be made.”
The Reds will be looking to put back-to-back winning performances together at home after spanking the Sunwolves with the proverbial rolled-up newspaper last week.
They take on the Sharkies who are looking good this year, with an electric backline featuring young gun Aphelele Fassi and a number of World Cup stars. Let’s hope that Suncorp fills up with even more fans than last week, with renewed hope being tempered until the Reds can put in an 80-minute performance.
The Brumbies take the rest of the Aussies teams off their back and enjoy the bye week. Check in for all the team sheets here.
In some great news, ex-Wallaby Richard Tombs was greeted with cheers as he completed a walk across Manly Beach with the help of two mates. Tombs was taking part in the annual Manly Inflatable Boat Race at Shelly Beach.
It’s an amazing feat, considering he suffered a spinal injury just 18 months ago. Tombs was left in a wheelchair after suffering C4 incomplete spinal damage in a freak soccer accident.
The spinal injury caused spasticity, resulting in all of his muscles became permanently turned on. Months of rehab has allowed him to walk for short periods of time, and use his arms.
“It’s like I’m lifting 10 kilos extra all the time,” said Tombs in a Player Athletes interview. “And, the only way I can stand up fully vertical is by flexing my glutes. They’re becoming like buns of steel.”
Tombs is back at work, and also goes to the gym three times a week, along with multiple pool therapy, osteopathy and physiotherapy sessions to keep his body in the best shape he can.
Tombs has set up Guns Out Spinal Foundation to raise funds for research into spasticity caused by a spinal cord injury. Get around him and support the foundation here: https://gunsout.org/
Feel the Force
Yesterday was the official launch of Global Rapid Rugby season one, launched at the Western Force’s headquarters.
Global Rapid Rugby’s inaugural season will feature six teams, 10 rounds, and 31 games, including a one-off grand final, with a total prize pool of 1million bucks. Twiggy’s new competition “aims to grow the game of rugby in the APAC region” and will feature innovative new laws trailed last year in a number of exhibition games.
The Force unveiled their new home and away jerseys for the tournament. The jerseys feature branded iron formations of the Pilbara on the arms and shoulders. A nice touch on the away strips is a distinctive outline of the WA coastline. While they are a blatant nod to its mining backing, I think the jerseys look pretty flash.
Western Force legend Matt Hodgson said, “This is the start of a new era in professional rugby in WA and to be able to show that we represent the West is important to both players and the fans. With the highest number of local players in the squad since the beginning, The jersey not only represents the state we represent but also shows a pathway for all kids playing rugby in Western Australia.”
The Force’s first game will be against the Malaysia-based Valke in Perth at 6.15pm on 14 March.