They are two of the NRL’s brightest stars yet the prospect of Angus Crichton and Kalyn Ponga lining up against each other in a Bledisloe- or Rugby World Cup- could be on the cards with both youngsters failing to rule out a code switch in the future.
Crichton has already been asked about a return to rugby on a number of occasions, the latest coming last week, in which he wouldn’t rule out a switch once his contract with Sydney Roosters winds up.
“There’s always the possibility to go back,” Crichton told the Sydney Morning Herald. “To play in a Rugby World Cup would be something special.
“Australian rugby is starting to build and they are getting back on the front foot. One of my best mates, Jack Maddocks, is looking to make his debut on Saturday night.
“Rugby is a game I grew up playing and enjoy watching, and I could possibly go back one day, be it here in Australia or overseas.
With Bledisloe I now in the books,
a resounding 38-13 victory to the All Blacks, Crichton might want to see a little more improvement from the Wallabies before he seriously considers a code switch.
Ponga, however, may not need as much convincing. Speaking with New Zealand’s TVNZ, Ponga revealed a move back to New Zealand to chase an All Blacks jersey is something he’d certainly consider.
“Obviously, that (playing for the All Blacks) would be a huge goal, if I was to come back to union I’d want to tick,” Ponga told TVNZ’s Marae program.
“I’m not too sure what my future holds whether I’m going to stay in league or change codes but if I was to go back to rugby union I’d probably want to strive for that black jumper, it’s the pinnacle.”
Schoolboys stars in their respective Sydney and Brisbane GPS Rugby competitions in 2014, the duo both elected to take up NRL contracts, albeit under slightly different circumstances.
Already on a scholarship with the Broncos as a teenager, Ponga elected to head north to the Cowboys after other NRL clubs, as well as Super Rugby’s Queensland Reds and the AFL’s Brisbane Lions, had shown interest.
Crichton’s situation was a little different. Having met with Rugby Australia officials [formerly Australian Rugby Union] where he was told he wouldn’t play professionally for three or four years, the Australian Schoolboys star fielded a phone call from South Sydney coach Michael Maguire. Two years later, Crichton made his NRL debut.
Kalyn Ponga runs the ball for Newcastle against North Queensland
Both men have gone since on to play State of Origin, Crichton for NSW and Ponga with Queensland, while the Rabbbitohs back-rower is well and truly in the hunt for an NRL premiership this season with Souths currently sitting third on the ladder.
Ponga, meanwhile, is the key figure in the Newcastle Knights’ rebuild under coach Nathan Brown.
But with his contract set to expire in 2022, and Crichton’s pending move to the Roosters set to conclude a year earlier, the prospect of the two lining up against each other at international level could be a possibility.
Short on ball-running back-rowers, Crichton would be a welcome addition to the Wallabies setup. If the current combination of Michael Hooper and David Pocock is to work, the player who completes the back-row must be able to bend the defensive line while not being a liability in defence.
Kalyn Ponga runs the ball for Queensland during State of Origin Game II
Lukhan Tui filled that role in the weekend’s Bledisloe defeat, but the jury is out on whether he can make a successful switch to the back-row from lock.
With Pocock likely to move on after next year’s World Cup in Japan, if Crichton was to make the switch at the end of his Roosters deal he could foreseeably line up alongside Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper, who recently
signed a five-year extension with Rugby Australia.
Crichton posted picture of himself wearing a Wallabies tracksuit top alongside close friend Jack Maddocks after the 22-year-old’s Test debut at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
Ponga’s path to a Test debut with the All Blacks might a tad more difficult, purely because of the exceptional depth of talent in New Zealand rugby.
While current All Blacks fullback Ben Smith will likely have moved on by the time Ponga’s Knights deal expires, boom Hurricanes utility Jordie Barrett is being groomed as the veteran’s long-term successor in the No.15 jersey.
Whatever winds up happening down the road, Crichton and Ponga could actually become Australia rugby league teammates before any potential code switch. While both men came off the bench in State of Origin, neither looked out of place in rugby league’s greatest cauldron.
If Ponga was to end up earning a Kangaroos- and All Blacks- jersey he would mirror the exploits of current Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn who played three Tests for Australia in rugby league and 59 with New Zealand in rugby. Thorn also wore the Queensland State of Origin jumper on 11 occasions.