Paul Kent has revealed the ace in the hole the Dolphins have in the race with the Knights for the signature of superstar fullback Kalyn Ponga.
Ponga is signed with the Knights until 2024, but has a clause in his contract allowing him to potentially leave Newcastle at the end of this season and the Dolphins are circulating.
James Hooper revealed another Dolphins target Harry Grant is set to stay at the Storm, so the expansion franchise have turned their attention to three remaining marquee targets, including Ponga.
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“The word around the game today is that Harry (Grant) has basically told the Storm that he is going to be staying there,” Hooper said on NRL 360.
“He is signed for next season anyway, so he gets an upgrade for next season and then he adds an additional two seasons for 2024 and 2025.
“I get the feeling the Dolphins will now move on and push all in towards Kalyn Ponga, Cameron Munster and Reece Walsh.”
Braith Anasta believes the Dolphins need to land a marquee player fast in order to attract players and fill out the rest of their 30 man roster in time for next season.
“They have got decisions to make and make quick because they have only signed seven or eight players,” Anasta said.
“They have got to fill a squad of 30 by next year.”
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Paul Kent agreed the Dolphins need a prized signature to encourage other players to come play with that star signing.
“They have got to land a big fish in the spine,” Kent said.
“They have got to land someone in the spine that everyone goes, I want to play with him.”
The Daily Telegraph’s Dave Riccio believes the Dolphins made an error in not going all-in for Ponga from the start.
“I can’t believe they didn’t go harder earlier and straight away at Kalyn Ponga,” Riccio said.
“I just think he is a franchise player that they could have sold to the stars.”
However, Hooper countered that Ponga’s management are known for dragging out negotiations.
“He is but he is tricky because it is hard to cut a deal with Kalyn and his management,” Hooper said.
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“Generally history tells us that negotiations are drawn out and you don’t get a decision until the 11th hour.”
“They can’t afford for it to be drawn out if they are making decisions,” Anasta interjected.
“Kalyn is the only one that is off-contract next year and they need a player for next year. They need a marquee player for next year, so Kalyn is in the hot seat.
“He is doing these ones (show me the money) at the moment because he can stay at Newcastle or he can go to the Dolphins who would pretty much pay huge dollars for him to be the face of their organization and he is an unbelievable player . So he can take his time from him at the moment.”
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Kent revealed the thing that puts the Dolphins ahead of the Knights is third party money, which the expansion team will have in abundance.
“The ace up the sleeve for Kalyn is he will draw enormous third party money if he goes to the Dolphins,” Kent said.
“The Dolphins are clearly aware of that which will also help them keep their number down on the salary cap, which is important for them because they do need quality across the park.
“They can’t just put it all into one player. But if he goes to the Dolphins he will be such a big name that the third party money will roll in.”
However, Hooper believes Ponga will have a tough decision given how much the Knights have also done for him and his family.
“It is a tough decision because Newcastle have also gone all-in on Kalyn as well,” Hooper said.
“They made him captain. He is their highest paid player.”