KNIGHTS officials have approached rival clubs about offloading contracted players as Wayne Bennett prepares for his second cleanout in the space of 12 months.
The Newcastle Herald was told yesterday that out-of-favour centres Wes Naiqama and Junior Sa’u, who have been dropped to reserve grade today, have been shopped around.
It is understood the Knights, not the agents who represent Sa’u and Naiqama, contacted other clubs directly in an attempt to move them on, possibly before the June 30 transfer deadline.
Knights management declined to discuss the matter yesterday, sticking to their standard response: ‘‘Club policy is not to comment on player negotiations.’’
Sau’s manager Steve Gillis said he had heard ‘‘nothing formal’’ from the Knights.
‘‘It’s news to me,’’ he said.
But the Herald obtained confirmation from other sources who said the Knights had contacted them in recent weeks eager to find a new home for both Sa’u and Naiqama.
Sa’u and Naiqama signed contract extensions with Newcastle last season – on Bennett’s approval – for two and three years respectively.
A year down the track, after observing them at closer quarters, the master coach has apparently had second thoughts.
The behind-the-scenes manoeuvring adds weight to comments from TV pundit Ben Ikin during Wednesday’s NRL on Fox show.
Ikin, who is Bennett’s son-in-law and one of his closest confidants, warned that heads were likely to roll if Newcastle could not recover from a dismal first half of the season, which has produced just four wins from 12 games.
‘‘He’s drawn a line in the sand and said there’s some players here at the moment who are not buying into the standards he believes you need to live by and play by to win grand finals,’’ Ikin said.
‘‘And if those players haven’t bought in by the end of this year, well they’ll be gone.
‘‘They won’t be at the club.’’
Sa’u and Naiqama have been in and out of the top grade all season, playing in eight and six of Newcastle’s 12 games respectively.
Their performances last week, when Brisbane embarrassed Newcastle on the edges in a 50-24 hammering, may have sealed their fates.
Bennett has preferred new signing Dane Gagai and veteran Timana Tahu as his centre pairing for tonight’s crucial clash with Canberra at Hunter Stadium.
If the futures of Sa’u and Naiqama appear bleak, other contracted players are entitled to be nervous.
Last season the Knights told a host of players – Cory Paterson, Beau Henry, Antonio Kaufusi, Mark Taufua and Dan Tolar – that they were not in Bennett’s plans for 2012.
The first four of them found new clubs – Paterson and Henry almost immediately – and Tolar retired.
Then there were the free agents Bennett opted to release, including Keith Lulia, Isaac De Gois, Cameron Ciraldo, Shannon McDonnell, Steve Southern and Marvin Karawana.
In total, almost half of Newcastle’s full-time squad were cleaned out, allowing Bennett to bolster his roster with strategic imports Darius Boyd, Kade Snowden, Danny Buderus, Alex McKinnon and Adam Cuthbertson.
Now it seems Bennett is pondering another makeover.
Kiwi forward Zeb Taia has already signed with Catalans Dragons. Sa’u and Naiqama are under pressure.
Buderus, Willie Mason, Joel Edwards, Richie Fa’aoso, Evarn Tuimavave, Chris Adams, Kevin Naiqama, Siuatonga Likiliki and Kyle O’Donnell are all free agents.