Childhood & Early Life
Kalyn Ponga was born on March 30, 1988, in Port Hedland, Western Australia, into an affluent New Zealander business family. Kalyn is of Māori descent. He lived in Mount Isa, Queensland, during the early years of his life, and at the age of 8, he moved to Palmerston North, New Zealand, his father’s native land.
It was in New Zealand that Kalyn developed a keen interest in sports and started being increasingly active on the field, playing various games. During the five years that his family lived in Palmerston, Kalyn played rugby, soccer, golf, touch football, and hockey.
This was the time when he decided to make a career in sports, but it still was not decided which sport he would play professionally once he grew up. In 2010, he won New Zealand’s under-13 golf championship, which was a testimony of his skills and impeccable presence of mind as a sportsperson.
In 2011, when he was 13 years of age, he moved back to Australia with his family and settled in Mackay. There, Kalyn attended the ‘Mackay State High School.’ Soon, he developed a love for rugby. He immediately became a member of the ‘Rugby League Academy’ program and appeared on the field as a member of ‘Souths Mackay’ in the junior rugby league. The same year, he earned a scholarship with the ‘NRL’s bid side for Central Queensland.
The next year, he became one of the main picks for the ‘Australian Schoolboys’ under-15 team. He was just 14 years old then. This made him the second 14-year-old player to make it to the team. He also earned a scholarship with the ‘Brisbane Broncos’ and moved to Brisbane. There, he started attending the ‘Anglican Church Grammar School’ and played in the ‘Cyril Connell Cup’ for the ‘Easts Tigers.’ For the second year in a row, he made a place in the ‘Australian Schoolboys’ under-15 squad.
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In December 2013, at the age of 13, he signed his first professional contract and joined the ‘North Queensland Cowboys.’ He was a young player and was being pursued by six different teams in three different sports. The ‘North Queensland Cowboys’ were one of the main ‘NRL’ sides, and joining them meant that his talent was being appreciated on a larger scale.
Following this, Kalyn moved to Townsville. There, he joined ‘Ignatius Park College’ and played for a local team called the ‘Townsville Stingers,’ in the ‘Mal Meninga Cup.’ In 2015, he made his national-team debut in touch football in the ‘Youth Trans Tasman’ series in Tasmania. He also ended up joining the ‘Queensland Academy of Sport’ as part of their under-18 squad.
Playing for the ‘North Queensland Cowboys,’ he made his on-field debut in round 20 and played a major part in his team’s scintillating 50-6 win over the ‘Parramatta Eels.’ It was later reported that the team management had intended to use him from the first round, but since he was under treatment for a brain infection, he stayed away from the team for the first five months. By the end of the year, he had played 8 games for his team and had ended up scoring 8 tries.
In October 2015, he was invited by the New Zealand national rugby team to join them on their tour of Great Britain. The following month, he was made a first-grade member of the ‘Cowboys’ line-up for the 2016 season. In January 2016, he was part of the under-20 ‘Origin’ squad of the ‘Queensland Academy of Sport.’ The next month, he appeared in the ‘Cowboys’ first-grade team, playing against the ‘Broncos.’ He scored one try in the game.
In May 2016, he was approached by the ‘Junior Kangaroos,’ an Australian under-20 rugby side. He was also approached by the ‘Junior Kiwis,’ an under-20 side of New Zealand. However, he declined both the offers. He spent most of the 2016 season practicing and training for the ‘Cowboys’ in the ‘NYC.’ By the end of the season, he was included in the ‘NYC Team of the Year’ as a fullback.
In September 2016, he made his ‘NRL’ debut, playing against the ‘Broncos’ in the finals. He became one of the very few players who made their first-grade debuts during the finals of the league. As more clubs approached Kalyn, he started making big news in the Australian sports circuit. It was later revealed that he had signed a contract with the ‘Newcastle Knights’ to play for them from 2018. His contract with the ‘Cowboys’ was valid till 2017.
In November 2016, an announcement finalized the contract. Although the signing amount remained undisclosed, it was said that Kalyn had become the highest-paid teenage player in the history of ‘NRL.’
In February 2017, he played for the ‘North Queensland Cowboys’ in the ‘Auckland Nines Tournament’ of the ‘NRL.’ He played a major role in his team reaching the quarterfinals, where they were unfortunately defeated by the ‘Storm.’ However, the tournament was fruitful for Kalyn, as he scored 5 tries. His performance earned him a place in the ‘Team of the Tournament.’ In round 3 of the tournament, Kalyn made his debut as a fullback, in which his team suffered a major loss.
In a round 4 game against the ‘Gold Coast Titans,’ he scored his first ‘NRL’ first-grade try. In a round 8 match against the ‘Newcastle Knights,’ he was named the ‘Man of the Match,’ after scoring two tries. In a round 24 match, he made a comeback to the first-grade ‘Cowboys,’ and in the same match, he suffered a shoulder injury. This made him stay away from the field for the following two weeks. He returned in a game against ‘Manly,’ and his team lost the match, resulting in their ouster from the tournament.
However, as always, the season was brilliant for Kalyn, as he won a place in the ‘NYC Team of the Year’ as a fullback and earned a nomination for the ‘RLPA Rookie of the Year’ award. In 2018, he made his debut for the ‘Newcastle Knights’ in round 1 and scored a try and kicked three goals.