Wayne Bennett backs Gagai to fulfil potential at Knights

NEWCASTLE coach Wayne Bennett said mid-season recruit Dane Gagai would bring a ‘‘God-given’’ talent to the Knights that he could not teach.

The Newcastle Herald website reported yesterday that the discarded Brisbane Broncos utility back was on the verge of joining the Knights, and the club later confirmed his signing, effective immediately, until the end of 2014.

Gagai will train with his new teammates for the first time today but it is understood he is unlikely to make his Newcastle debut against his old club at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday.

Considering him as a winger, centre or fullback, Bennett will monitor Gagai’s progress this week but would not discuss whether he would be considered for selection against the Broncos.

‘‘This guy’s a rare talent,’’ Bennett told the Herald last night.

‘‘That’s why we’ve brought him here, because he can bring something that I can’t coach, and he can bring something the fans want to watch, and that’s God-given.

‘‘If we get the other part right, he can hopefully have a decade here. He’s young, and we’re investing a fair bit in our youth here.

‘‘If he was just another footy player that didn’t have those special qualities, well we wouldn’t have recruited him.

‘‘He’s got speed, he’s highly skilled, and he’s a football player. In other words, he’s not an athlete, but he’s got a footy brain about him.’’

The 21-year-old former Junior Kangaroos representative signed a two-year contract with the Broncos in March but Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin told him three weeks ago that he would no longer be considered for NRL selection due to a series of disciplinary breaches.

Gagai’s indiscretions were undisclosed but Bennett said the Mackay-born former Queensland schoolboys rugby union representative was not guilty of any abusive or anti-social behaviour linked to drugs or alcohol.

‘‘We need to be candid about it. At the end of the day, the Broncos realised his wonderful potential but felt they’d gone as far as they could with him,’’ Bennett said.

‘‘But from all my questioning of people that mattered up there was the fact that he doesn’t have a drinking problem and he certainly doesn’t do drugs.

‘‘He was missing the odd session here and there, or being late, and he was probably not as disciplined off the field as they wanted him to be.

‘‘They felt he was getting in with the wrong crowd, and the influences around him weren’t good for him, so they just ran out of patience with him.

‘‘That happens sometimes at footy clubs. The issues are not huge.

‘‘Those young kids that come out of home at such young ages, they get homesick and that type of stuff, and I know they can lose their way a little bit.

‘‘They thought it was in his best interests to release him so that he could get another start and get on with his life a little bit, so hopefully we can help him do that.’’

When the Broncos released him, Gagai said he ‘‘stuffed up’’ and their decision was the ‘‘kick in the pants’’ he needed.

Bennett said Gagai had to support that sentiment with better behaviour off the field.

‘‘In all of this stuff, wherever you go, you’ve got to take yourself. He has to change his attitude too. He can say he needs a change of environment, which is fine, but the end result is if he doesn’t change some of his behaviour, well nothing’s going to change,’’ he said.

‘‘But I’ve met with him, and I’m confident that will take place.

‘‘Will he be the perfect child? No, I’d probably say not.

‘‘He’ll have his moments, but he’ll be a lot better than he has been and he’ll get there by maturity, which is how it works for some of these kids.

‘‘I feel it’s something we can manage with both parties working together.

‘‘There’s always a bit of risk in what you do with anything, but the point I’m making, if he misses a few training sessions and he doesn’t aim up in some areas there, well that’s going to be an issue for us as it is for any club.

‘‘But we’re not dealing with alcohol and drugs here. We’re not dealing with a guy that’s got abusive or bad behaviour. He’s not running around terrorising the neighbourhood.

‘‘He just needs to get his act together.’’

Bennett coached Gagai’s father, Ray, in the early years at the Broncos, but Dane joined the club’s junior system in 2009, the year Bennett left for the Dragons.

Gagai has been playing for Redcliffe, Brisbane’s Queensland Cup feeder club, since the Broncos showed him the door.

It is understood up to eight NRL clubs were chasing Gagai, and he considered returning to the 15-man code and joining defending Super Rugby champions Queensland Reds, but he narrowed his choices to the Knights, Cowboys and Raiders then settled on Newcastle.

“I am really glad I have decided on my future and excited to be going to the Knights,” Gagai said in a club media release.

“Wayne coached my father and I look forward to now playing under Wayne as well.”

Gagai’s incentive-based contract is structured to be included in the Knights’ second-tier salary cap for this season, with the capacity to earn more in the next two years.

The Knights have also re-signed NSW Cup prop Robbie Rochow until the end of 2014 and National Youth Cup utility back Will Smith until the end of 2013.

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