IN-form forward Zeb Taia is set to part company with the Knights at season’s end to accept a rich deal in the English Super League.
Off contract at the end of 2012, Taia will almost certainly be squeezed out, freeing up room under the salary cap to accommodate new signing Beau Scott from St George Illawarra.
The 27-year-old New Zealand Test representative learned this week that the Knights were unlikely to make an offer to retain him.
Taia’s manager, John Frare, said his client had already attracted interest from two NRL clubs and three Super League outfits, two of whom have tabled lucrative three-year deals.
‘‘At this point, I’d say it’s not likely that Zeb will be staying in Newcastle,’’ Frare said yesterday.
‘‘It sounds like they can’t fit him into the salary cap.
‘‘He’s a bit devastated about that, because he loves Newcastle and was hoping to play out his career for the Knights and live there for the rest of his life.
‘‘He’s disappointed, but he’s playing good football and there are clubs interested.
‘‘There are a couple of NRL clubs – one of which he is keen on, but they said they might not be able to make an offer for another two or three weeks.
‘‘I don’t know if Zeb can wait that long, because the offers from England are huge.’’
Taia is one of a handful of free agents on Newcastle’s books, along with Joel Edwards, Evarn Tuimavave, Richie Fa’aoso, Siuatonga Likiliki, Marvin Filipo and Luke O’Donnell.
Edwards is reportedly close to re-signing with Newcastle but the futures of Tuimavave and Fa’aoso, who have both spent time in the NSW Cup this year, appear uncertain.
Likiliki, who played two NRL games last year after joining Newcastle from the Warriors, has not been sighted in the top grade this season and may decide he needs to link with a club who will give him opportunity.
With nine tries in as many NSW Cup games – including five tries in his past two outings – the 22-year-old appears ready to make his mark in first grade.
Taia has been an outstanding clubman for Newcastle since his unheralded arrival in 2007 from Parramatta.
Now in his sixth season with the Knights, the back-row workhorse has racked up 87 appearances in the blue and red, including all nine games this year.
He will have to play in 13 of their remaining 15 games this season to rack up his century for Newcastle.
After a slow start to the season, Taia has returned to top form in the past month.
He has played the full 80minutes in four consecutive matches, averaging 128metres and 35 tackles per game.
But earlier in the the year he appeared to be struggling to put his best foot forward after a career-saving spinal fusion last May.
Even though Taia returned from a five-month hiatus for Newcastle’s semi-final loss to Melbourne last season, it took time for him to build form and momentum.
‘‘The first two or three weeks, Zeb was terrible,’’ Frare said.
‘‘Even though he played in that semi-final last year, it still took him a while to get back his confidence in his neck.
‘‘And also, under Wayne Bennett, the Knights are playing a different style and it took Zeb a while to adjust.
‘‘But he’s been playing some great football the last few weeks.’’
Frare said that when Taia signed his most recent contract with Newcastle, in 2010, he was a Kiwi Test forward and had considerable bargaining power.
The agent said Taia ‘‘probably wouldn’t be looking for the same type of cash again’’ to stay with Newcastle, although it sounds like English clubs are willing to pay that, and more.