UNWANTED Knights Wes Naiqama, Junior Sa’u, Richie Fa’aoso and Siuatonga Likiliki took out their frustrations in reserve grade on Saturday, scoring tries in Newcastle’s 64-14 NSW Cup hammering of Western Suburbs.
But the suspicion is it might be a case of too little, too late.
As revealed by the Newcastle Herald on Saturday, Knights officials have approached other clubs in an attempt to offload Sa’u and Naiqama, who last year signed contract extensions for two and three years respectively.
Knights coach Wayne Bennett said after Saturday night’s loss to Canberra at Hunter Stadium no decisions had been made about the futures of Sa’u and Naiqama, but he confirmed that moving them on was an option the club was exploring.
‘‘That’s part of the decision process that’s got to be made somewhere down the track here,’’ Bennett said, adding that ‘‘all other players as well’’ were under scrutiny.
Bennett offered an insight into the balancing act he now faces, in trying to stay alive in the race for this season’s finals while making recruitment and retention decisions for next year.
‘‘Certainly my priority is week to week, that’s my absolute priority,’’ Bennett said.
‘‘I’m doing the best that we can, but obviously I’m also making decisions about players and long-term stuff as well, so that’s the process right now ... but you’re in a situation where you’ve just got to play with the cards you’ve been dealt and that’s what we’re doing right now.’’
Asked if he was disappointed with the performances of Sa’u and Naiqama, Bennett replied: ‘‘They’re in there with a few other blokes. Whose form would I really be happy with?’’
Bennett’s tone suggested Sa’u and Naiqama might not be the only contracted players to receive a tap on the shoulder.
There is already speculation that Matt Hilder, who is signed until the end of next season, might be next.
Last year Newcastle asked Mark Taufua, Beau Henry, Cory Paterson, Antonio Kaufusi and Dan Tolar to terminate their deals with the club prematurely because they did not feature in Bennett’s plan.
The first four found new clubs, after Newcastle agreed to supplment their salaries, and Tolar retired.
Any money the Knights would have to offer Sa’u, Naiqama or any other contracted players as a partial payout would count under their salary cap.
Alternatively, Sa’u and Naiqama are entitled to tell the Knights they intend to honour their contracts, thereby daring club management to play hardball.
Sa’u and Naiqama would command at least $350,000 of Newcastle’s salary cap.
Releasing them would free up cash for players Bennett appears keen to retain, including Danny Buderus, Willie Mason and Joel Edwards.
The master coach is also looking to bolster his roster with some imports. He has signed rep forward Beau Scott from St George Illawarra and is reported to be chasing Canterbury workhorse David Stagg.
Off-contract Knights forwards Fa’aoso and Evarn Tuimavave, who lined up alongside Hilder in an all-star NSW Cup engine room on Saturday, are clearly on the outer.
Likiliki is Newcastle’s leading tryscorer in NSW Cup this season with 10 four-pointers.
He has not been sighted in the NRL this year and it is understood that even if Bennett was interested in playing him, that might not be possible because there is little room to move under the second-tier salary cap.
With his partner expecting twins, 22-year-old Likiliki has reached a crucial juncture in his career, and it is hard to imagine he will be with Newcastle next year.