Knights leave Joel Edwards in contract limbo as Canberra come sniffing

CANBERRA are lurking with intent as home-grown forward Joel Edwards waits to learn if he has a future with the Newcastle Knights.

Edwards is one of several Newcastle first-graders who are free agents and have been left in limbo by coach Wayne Bennett’s decision to defer all contract negotiations.

The 23-year-old’s manager, Darryl Mather, said last night he had been in the process of negotiating a three-year deal with Newcastle and was close to reaching an agreement.

But he was informed recently that the Knights had imposed a ‘‘moratorium’’ on player signings, apparently because Bennett wanted more time to assess who to retain and who to release.

It is understood the Raiders have already expressed interest in Edwards and Mather said the Cessnock-born hit-man would soon be in demand if he decided

to explore the market.

‘‘At this stage we haven’t taken any other expressions of interest but a lot of people were probably under the impression that Joel is going to stay in Newcastle,’’ Mather said.

‘‘If worst came to worst and Newcastle were to say they don’t want him – and I don’t think that will happen – I’m sure a number of clubs would say ‘wow’ because Joel is a fine young player.

‘‘I’m sure he would attract quite a deal of interest, but I’m quite relaxed that it won’t come to that. We had agreed on 99 per cent of the issues and now it’s just a matter of waiting until Newcastle lift this moratorium and we can resume negotiations.’’

Edwards made his NRL debut in 2010, becoming Newcastle’s first local junior to graduate from the National Youth Competition (under-20s) to first grade.

He established himself as a regular in the team last season, appearing in 22 games.

This season he had not missed a game until he was suspended for last week’s clash with North Queensland, which Newcastle lost 32-12, after a dangerous throw six days earlier in the loss to Sydney Roosters.

Newcastle’s other senior players coming out of contract are Danny Buderus, Zeb Taia, Richie Fa’aoso, Evarn Tuimavave and Willie Mason.

The Newcastle Herald revealed last week that Taia has been told the Knights were unlikely to retain him. He is poised to accept a lucrative deal in England.

Fa’aoso and Tuimavave, previously NRL mainstays under former coach Rick Stone, have both spent time in the NSW Cup this season and face uncertain futures.

Mason linked with Newcastle last month, after stints in England and France, but has had only three NRL games to state his case for a new contract.

Bennett said on March 25 that he was happy for Buderus, 34, to play on next year, but since then the veteran hooker has been sidelined by Achilles tendonitis.

Fringe players Kevin Naiqama, Marvin Filipo, Siuatonga Likiliki, Luke O’Donnell and Chris Adams, who made his NRL debut against the Cowboys, are also unsigned.

A high-profile recruit from the Warriors, Likiliki played two NRL games for Newcastle last year but has not been sighted in first grade this year, despite scoring nine tries in as many NSW Cup games.

Edwards was unavailable for comment yesterday. The Knights’ policy is not to comment on recruitment matters.

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