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Ponga not distracted by contract talk: O’Brien

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Newcastle coach Adam O’Brien insists Kalyn Ponga’s ongoing NRL contract negotiations aren’t a distraction for the Knights’ superstar fullback.

Ponga’s future is the hottest topic in the NRL this week after it emerged he met with Wayne Bennett and Dolphins bosses last Saturday.

Less than two seasons after trumpeting a new four-year deal, Ponga is technically off-contract this year with a clause allowing him to walk away from Newcastle at the end of 2022.

The Knights remain in talks with Ponga about him taking up the option to stay or extending his deal further in what would be a crucial move for the club.

Regardless, Ponga’s meetings with Bennett prompted complaints from Newcastle legend and coaching consultant Andrew Johns, who feared it would sidetrack the Queensland star.

But, O’Brien says he has not seen any signs of that this week ahead of Thursday’s clash with Manly, with the spotlight on his future now more intense than ever.

“Ideally I would love to stand here and give you the answer that he is staying and is going to be part of the future,” he said. 

“I am still confident that can happen.

“The honest truth is we’re not there yet. 

“It would concern me if I felt his preparation and training standards had dropped – and they haven’t. 

“If anything they are getting stronger and stronger.”

Johns’ fears came after one of Ponga’s quietest games of his career in last week’s flogging from Cronulla, running the ball just 10 times for 66 metres and making four errors.

But, O’Brien defended his fullback, adamant he was not alone in the poor showing as he returned from a knee injury.

“This week is the best he has been (for fitness),” he said.

“I am really comfortable with the (contract negotiations) process.

“I want him to make an educated decision on his future with all the facts on the table.

“I am OK with how it has transpired.”

O’Brien delivered some good news on Wednesday, with representative star Tyson Frizell cleared of a hamstring issue and a chance to overcome a nerve complaint to face Manly.

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