Move official as Cowboys young gun sensation signs at the Knights

Kalyn Ponga

Impressed by the facilities that he saw, the reports had it as a matter of time for Kalyn Ponga to sign with the Newcastle Knights.

The move is now official, as the club confirm the signing of the talented utility back on a four-year deal starting in 2018.

Still only 18, he was highly sought after by many clubs but it was ultimately the Knights who won the race to sign him, after witnessing his ability in just two games for the North Queensland Cowboys.

Playing mostly in the Holden Cup throughout 2016, Ponga was named in the Holden Cup Team of the Year at fullback and ties in with the Knights plans to have a young, youthful roster moving forward.

“There is no doubt Kalyn is a very talented and exciting young player and his signing is definitely a coup for the Club,” coach Nathan Brown said.

“We look forward to further developing his talent and welcoming his family to Newcastle.”

The club are excited to have such a talented prospect at the club from 2018.

“To secure Kalyn from 2018 is really pleasing for everyone at the Club,” CEO Matt Gidley said.

“Kalyn made this decision with his family and he’s excited to be a part of the future of our Club.”

Although the deal is for 2018 only, the Knights are open to Ponga joining the club a year early if the Cowboys allow it.

“As it stands, we are excited about Kalyn joining us in 2018,” Gidley added.

“Should the Cowboys decide to release Kalyn before the conclusion of his contract, we would certainly welcome him to the Club at an earlier date.”

Sharks forward signs with English club London Broncos

Junior Roqica

Looking to stake their claim in the English Championship, the London Broncos have signed Cronulla Sharks forward Junior Roqica on a 1-year deal subject to visa approval.

Spending time with three clubs in the NRL – the Wests Tigers, the Canterbury Bulldogs and more recently, the Sharks – the 1-year deal is a challenge for Roqica and one he looks forward to.

“I’m really looking forward to the move to London – it’s a big change for me, but one I’m really excited about,” said Roqica.

“I’m ready for something different in my career and I’m looking forward to a new start, but I’ll always be thankful to the Sharks for giving me this opportunity. I’ve loved my time with the boys.”

The aim for the Broncos is a return to the top tier of English rugby league – the Super League – and Roqica wants to help them achieve that goal.

“The Broncos have been pretty clear in what their goal is – they’re a club fighting for promotion back to Super League,” Roqica said.

“They’re working very hard towards that goal, and it’s one I’m really looking forward to getting behind.”

Adding a player of Roqica’s size and quality pleases coach Andrew Henderson.

“The addition of Junior to our pack should be a strong one,” Henderson said.

“He’s both powerful and versatile with a good work ethic. He has the ability to play both in the middle and on the edge which is a bonus for the team.”

Roqica also has international honours with Fiji and the club is excited at his enthusiasm to get involved.

“Junior has a good pedigree, coming through the West Tigers youth system and was an Australian schoolboy before representing Canterbury and Cronulla in the NRL,” said Henderson.

“He has also been part of a successful Fijian team on the international stage in recent years.”

“That’s a huge part of our philosophy at the Broncos, and it makes him a good fit for our 2017 squad.”

Experienced forward re-signs at Tigers to provide club with a handy boost

Elijah Taylor

For some time now, Wests Tigers fans have been waiting for Elijah Taylor re-sign and hoping that the club could sort something out.

The wait is over as the club have announced the re-signing of the veteran forward for a further two seasons, as many fans express their jubilation at the decision.

The Kiwi international and Otahuhu Leopards junior has played a total of 121 NRL games since his debut with former side the New Zealand Warriors in 2011, 15 of which have come for the Tigers.

Taylor admits that he wanted to stay at the club and that it did take a while to get things sorted but he is pleased the contract is finalised.

“I’m really happy to have extended my contract with Wests Tigers,” Taylor said.

“It’s a great Club, there’s a lot of potential and some really great young players here.

“Staying at Wests Tigers was something that I’d wanted to do for a while, so it’s good to have that all sorted now.”

Taylor also praised the club for their support and his team-mates, making the decision to stay an even easier one.

“It didn’t take me too long to settle in here at the Club, the boys were all really welcoming and the coaching staff really believed in me and supported me,” Taylor said.

“I really enjoyed that aspect and it made my transition so much easier, so to now get a pre-season under my belt with the team will really help going into 2017.”

“It’s been really eye-opening to play with some of these young guys, they have a lot of confidence and their enthusiasm really rubs off on you as an older player.”

With both club and player happy to see everything sorted, coach Jason Taylor knows how valuable Taylor is to the side.

“We are all very happy that Elijah has re-signed with the Club,” he said.

“It’s something that we have been working on for a long while and we’ve been really keen to ensure that we were able to get it sorted. We’ve done that now and Elijah is really happy about it, so we are all really excited about him having a full pre-season with us.”

With a full pre-season ahead for Taylor, the coach is confident that he can perform even better as he becomes more familiar with the club systems.

“I think a lot of people forget that he only joined us mid-season, so to have this pre-season with us and really get a deep understanding of what we are doing is really going to add to his contribution on the field,” said coach Taylor.

“Allowing him to work really closely with the guys over the pre-season is going to mean that he is going to be more comfortable when we get out there for Round 1, and so are the guys around him.

“The way he developed those combinations within the group in a short period was really impressive, but to get a pre-season to work on it is going to make it even better, so we couldn’t be happier,” he said.

Former NRL forward signs with new Championship side Toronto

Fuifui Moimoi

A cult hero during his time in the NRL with the Parramatta Eels, Fuifui Moimoi enjoyed a mass following among the Eels fans for his on-field force and off-field quietness.

A quiet, humble character, Moimoi eventually departed the Eels and signed with the Leigh Centurions where he also became a cult hero among their fans.

As is the case with many players, though, opportunity is the key and for Moimoi, he has signed with the newest team in the second division of the English Championship side, the Toronto Wolfpack.

The Canadian-based team are slowly building their player stocks and signing experience prop Moimoi is a tremendous boost for the new club.

“It’s a magnificent coup for the Wolfpack to acquire Fui’s services,” said head coach Paul Rowley.

“He’s an iconic brand and will add an additional physical presence to an already impressive lineup. His wealth of international and club experience will be a great benefit both on and off the pitch.

I also think that our club fans especially those based in Toronto and North America will love his free flowing and aggressive style of play, as we all know, he has left dents all over Australia, New Zealand & the UK.”

Moimoi is just as pleased to be involved and can’t wait to play for the club and its fans.

“I would like to thank everyone at the Wolfpack for this opportunity and am looking forward to being a part of the team and hitting hard for the fans,” said Moimoi.

Veteran forward returns to the NRL and signs with the Eels

Frank Pritchard

Every team is on the look-out for veteran campaigners to guide their younger players around and the Eels have signed Frank Pritchard to do just that.

The former Canterbury Bulldogs and Penrith Panthers forward has enjoyed a long career, playing in 248 NRL games as well as a stint with Hull FC in the Super League.

The one-year deal for Pritchard is a chance for youngsters at the club to grow and develop under a player that has been around the game for some time.

In addition to his club career, Pritchard has played for the New Zealand side on 27 occasions as well as 5 tests for Samoa, the international team he has represented most recently.

The experience Pritchard brings is crucial and it is an important aspect for an Eels side filled with young, emerging forwards.

“Frank has played at the highest level and I am sure our Members and fans are pleased that we have secured Pritchard as we lead into 2017,” Head Coach Brad Arthur said.

“We have had a strategy over the last two months to retain our key players, and when necessary, bring in strong additions who will allow our squad to progress to the next level.

Frank is a good example of a strong addition not only on the field but as a wealth of knowledge to our developing players.”

Raiders hooker re-signs to solidify depth

Kurt Baptiste

He might not be the starting hooker but for Kurt Baptiste, being in the side and performing a role when called upon is just fine with him.

Baptiste, who enjoyed a career-best season in 2016, has re-signed with the club for a further two seasons.

Playing in 24 matches for the Raiders in 2016, his liveliness and spark off the bench was crucial and the man himself is looking forward to continuing at the Green Machine.

“It’s great to get it organised and I’m really looking forward next two years and grateful for the opportunity the Raiders have given me,” Baptiste said.

“This will take me to five years in total with the club and I’ve really found a home her in Canberra.”

Baptiste knows that Josh Hodgson is the number one hooker at the Raiders but he is just keen to perform when needed and play his best.

“Josh is obviously the number one hooker, but I’m looking forward to staying in the side and hopefully being there for round one,” he said.

“There’s plenty of depth in the team and there will be guys fighting for positions right across the park.”

The club are pleased to have retained Baptiste, knowing just how crucial he was to their team last year.

“Kurt was an integral part of our squad in 2016, and he will play a big role in our plans moving forward in the next two years,” said Raiders NRL Recruitment and High Performance Director.

“Each year he has managed to improve his game in all facets, and that desire to continually improve rubs off on the rest of the squad.

“Our roster is almost completely locked up now until 2018, which we believe will give us the best possible shot at achieving success on the field.”

Hull FC sign former NRL half and re-sign Michaels

Albert Kelly

Defecting to arch rivals Hull FC may attract the ire of Hull KR fans but following Rovers’ demotion to the championship and falling out of favour, Albert Kelly decided to start afresh and joined Hull FC.

Not playing in a while due to off-field indiscretions, Kelly will join the Challenge Cup winners on the same day that veteran utility back Steve Michaels re-signs.

Despite that, Kelly is looking forward to the new adventure and enjoyed Hull FC’s Challenge Cup success due to several friends of his playing in their team.

“It was pretty exciting seeing Hull go to Wembley and win the Challenge Cup. Some of my good mates were in there and to see them smiling and lifting the trophy is something I want to do as well,” Kelly said.

“I think because the boys won it last year, we can go back-to-back if we put in performances each week.”

As for Michaels, at one stage, it appeared that he was set to depart East Yorkshire club. Though that was not the case, as he looks forward to another year with Hull FC.

“I’m really happy to be on board for next season. I love the players, the fans and the club. I’m really happy to commit my future to Hull FC,” said the 29-year-old.

Steve Michaels

Talented outside back leaves the Shire and heads North to Newcastle

Jacob Gagan

He could have been a very good player at the Parramatta Eels had injury not struck and with the logjam at the Cronulla Sharks, Jacob Gagan can be forgiven for seeking greener pastures.

With the Newcastle Knights immediate need for quality back-line players in light of several departing, they have signed Gagan on a 1-year deal for the 2017 season.

He made a quick name for himself at the Sharks when he played in 7 NRL games and scored 5 tries during that time.

He was also a strong performer for the Newtown Jets – the Sharks feeder side – in the Intrust Super Premiership, finishing among the top try-scorers with 15.

With the need for back-line depth to shore up their options, it is a signing that pleases the club’s head coach.

“Jacob is a talented young player that has been restricted from playing more NRL football due to an accomplished, premiership winning Sharks back line,” coach Nathan Brown said.

“He will add some really good depth to our outside backs.”

As for Gagan himself, with the healthy competition for spots, he relishes the chance to play regular first-grade.

“I’m looking to have a good pre-season and hopefully push for a spot next year,” he said.

“As soon as I found out I was coming to the Knights, I was excited.

“Everyone has been very welcoming, and I’m enjoying it so far.”

Former Raiders and Penrith centre packs bags and joins Hull KR

Andrew Heffernan

The Canberra Raiders fans and Penrith Panthers fans will have heard of him and although he could not crack the first-grade sides at either clubs, his talent was well-known and always on show.

In a bid for regular first-team action, Andrew Heffernan has opted to leave the Australian setup to sign a 1-year deal with English side, Hull KR.

A solid, consistent centre, Heffernan can also play at fullback and in the halves but the current Hull KR setup is expected to see him feature at centre.

His strong performances in the Holden Cup and the Intrust Super Premiership caught the eye of Hull KR coach Tim Sheens, who looks forward to having the talented youngsters on board.

“Andrew was highly rated when he came through the system at Canberra and Penrith pulled out all the stops to take him there,” said Sheens.

“Unfortunately for him, he was stuck behind some excellent outside backs at the Panthers which has opened the door for us to bring him on board.

“He’s quick, skilful, has excellent footwork and can play in a few positions. We see him playing mainly at centre for us but his versatility gives us options within the squad which will be important next season.”

Whilst Hull KR fans may not have seen or heard a lot about him, Sheens is confident he can become a quality player for them in 2017.

“Andrew is somebody who a lot of supporters over here won’t have seen before but I’m confident that after four or five games everybody will know what he’s about,” Sheens said.

“He’s an exciting player to watch and we expect him to establish himself as an important member of the squad in 2017.”

Heffernan, set to join Hull KR for their pre-season in the near future, is excited about the new challenge ahead.

“I’m really excited about having the opportunity to play for such a proud club with a rich history,” said Heffernan.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge ahead of us in 2017 and can’t wait to get over there and start training with the squad.”

Eels add another forward to strengthen their depth

Suaia Matagi

As the old saying goes, ‘you can never have enough depth’ and the Parramatta Eels have added to theirs, signing Suaia Matagi on a 2-year deal.

Matagi, who most recently played for the Penrith Panthers, joins the Eels with and will face competition for spots given the number of forwards at the club.

Whilst many Eels fans expect that he will start in the seventeen, the pre-season looms as the biggest test in the forward rotation under the helm of coach Brad Arthur.

As for Matagi himself, the Samoan and Kiwi international has also played for the New Zealand Warriors.

The club is pleased to have him on board to add to their forward stocks.

“Suaia’s journey to the NRL is a testament of hard work and dedication and I am delighted that we have been able to secure him for the next two years,” Head Coach Brad Arthur said.

“He played 23 games last year and showed the ability to mix it with the very best in the competition so I am sure our Members and fans are pleased that he will be part of the team in 2017.”

Matagi is already with the club at their pre-season training.

“Already in pre-season, Suaia has given us a glimpse of the contribution he can make to the team as we prepare for next year.”