Johns blasts Bennett in Dolphins’ Ponga raid

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Andrew Johns hit out at Wayne Bennett, accusing the Dolphins coach of double standard and poor form after apparently meeting Kalyn Ponga in Sydney.

Reports emerged in the Sunday Telegraph that Bennett and other Dolphins officials had flown to Sydney on Saturday to meet Ponga about his future.

The Newcastle full-back is contracted to the Knights until the end of 2024 but the official NRL record shows the final two years of that deal is an option in the player’s favour.

Ponga therefore looms as the biggest name potentially remaining available on the transfer market for next year and would be a massive blow for a Dolphins club struggling to land big names.

But Johns, who serves as a consultant to the Knights as well as being a big player for the club, isn’t impressed with Bennett’s mid-season approaches.

“It affects them (as players),” Johns said on Nine’s Sunday Footy Show.

“I just think it’s bad form that Wayne flew to Newcastle to meet a player, as they’re playing that season.

“Kalyn has a knee injury, so you saw he was limited (in a poor performance against Cronulla on Friday night). But that would definitely have been a distraction.

Johns also compared the situation to Justin Hodges’ controversial exit from Brisbane in 2001, when Bennett dropped him to reserve grade when he signed with the Roosters for the following year.

“He introduced him in front of the team and fired him and he played reserve all year,” Johns said of his former Kangaroos manager. “It’s different when it goes the other way.

“I just think it’s bad form to fly to someone’s home town while they’re still playing, to try and get them to go to their club next year.”

The situation has also once again raised the debate around dedicated transfer windows after a summer of big-name players signing for rivals more than a year later.

The likes of Viliame Kikau, Brandon Smith, Isaiah Papali’i, Reed Mahoney and Apisai Koroisau have each entered this season having already agreed a deal elsewhere for 2023.

“It’s just ridiculous,” said NSW State of Origin coach Brad Fittler. “It’s an awful, awful look for the game…it’s so negative and you’re going to lose fans.

Wayne Bennett will be the first coach of the new Dolphins franchise. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

“We just need support at the end of the year where you do all your trading, that’s all.”

The issue is expected to be a key part of collective bargaining negotiations this year, with the NRL wanting trade windows and the players’ union opposing it.

Their biggest fears remain the impact injuries can have on the financial well-being of out-of-contract players as well as greater planning for families in terms of moves.

Standardized social protection and education are likely to be at the center of this year’s negotiations, with the feeling that the NRL must offer enough for players to change position.

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