NEW BOY: Dane Gagai trains last week. Picture: Ryan Osland
MID-SEASON recruit Dane Gagai is poised to make his Newcastle Knights debut against Canberra at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night after his former club Brisbane blocked him from turning out against them at Suncorp Stadium yesterday.
Signed to add some game-breaking speed and skill to a backline which has struggled to find the line this year, Gagai agreed last Monday to play out the rest of this season and until the end of 2014 for the Knights.
Bennett was considering using the 21-year-old former Junior Kangaroos representative yesterday after centre Timana Tahu was ruled out with a virus and did not make the trip to Brisbane, but instead selected Wes Naiqama because the Broncos refused to grant Gagai a clearance until today.
‘‘That’s accurate,’’ said Bennett after Brisbane’s 50-24 victory, but he held no grudge against the club he coached for their first 21 years.
‘‘They’re playing within the rules.’’
Asked if Gagai would line up against the Raiders, Bennett said: ‘‘There’s probably a pretty good chance that he will.
‘‘We don’t have that many players that we have the luxury of not being able to play him.’’
Gagai signed a new two-year contract with the Broncos in March but Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin lost patience with him after a series of minor disciplinary breaches and decided last month to release him.
The Knights were reportedly one of eight NRL clubs chasing his services.
Griffin did not deny the Broncos had delayed Gagai’s clearance but said the administrative processing of that had been left to Brisbane football manager Andrew Gee.
‘‘I had enough on my plate at the moment ... the Gagai thing was dead and buried three or four weeks ago,’’ Griffin said.
‘‘I’m not trying to hide behind that. I made a decision, it was my decision, which I thought was in the best interests of the club.
‘‘As I’ve said before, I’ve got a good relationship with Dane, I wish him all the best, and he’s not a bad kid, but I made a call on his performance for us.
‘‘Whether he got released this week or in 10 weeks, that’s aside from what I’m worrying about.’’
Gagai can play wing, centre or fullback and will replace either Darius Boyd or Aku Uate against the Raiders because both players will be unavailable due to their involvement in the second State of Origin game at ANZ Stadium in nine days.
Uate has retained his place on the right wing for NSW and Boyd will be named today to oppose Uate as Queensland’s left winger.
Boyd’s line break set up a try for Danny Buderus yesterday and he almost scored his first try in Newcastle colours but lost the ball over the line in the 50th minute.
The Knights trailed 26-18 at the time and Boyd appeared certain to score, but he landed on his back in the in-goal and the ball jolted loose on impact.
Still, Boyd ran a game-high 16 times for a team-high 127metres, made two lines breaks and seven tackle breaks, and Bennett was encouraged by his improvement and involvement in combination with Buderus and halves Jarrod Mullen and Tyrone Roberts.
‘‘Our attack was much better today. Our halves played much better and Darius got into the game,’’ Bennett said.
‘‘It was certainly his best game of the season for us.
‘‘It was great to see him play today like he did. He’s been struggling, like a lot of his teammates.
‘‘As silly as it sounds, we had a lot of good players out there today but we just lost our way when it mattered most at the end there.
‘‘The effort was good from a lot of them and we were much improved in some areas.’’
Forward Joel Edwards needed stitches after a head clash with teammate Neville Costigan in the 75th minute yesterday but Bennett said there were no significant injury concerns arising from the team’s fourth consecutive loss.