Hobbled Gagai sends scare through Knights

MID-SEASON Knights recruit Dane Gagai limped out of training yesterday but is expected to be available for their crucial game against Wests Tigers at Hunter Stadium on Monday night.

If fit, the 21-year-old former Broncos utility back, who scored a try in an impressive Knights debut against the Raiders 11 days ago, is likely to retain his place in the centres when coach Wayne Bennett names his team today.

Gagai did not complete the session at Mayfield yesterday, holding his upper thigh as he hobbled off with about 30 minutes left, but he stayed until the end of training and ate lunch with his teammates before leaving for physiotherapy.

‘‘He didn’t seem too bothered by it so he should be fine by next Monday,’’ a source told the Newcastle Herald after training yesterday.

Gagai is likely to play inside NSW winger Aku Uate, who will return from Origin duty.

Though they have been dropped to the NSW Cup ranks in recent weeks, centre Wes Naiqama (back) and utility forward Matt Hilder (concussion) are not expected to be available for the Tigers game even if Bennett was considering recalling them.

Naiqama was a late withdrawal from the NSW Cup team beaten 42-22 by Wentworthville at Ringrose Park on Sunday. Hilder has missed the past two games and is undergoing a series of tests after suffering several head knocks and concussions in the past 10 months.

He needed 25 staples to close a horrific 20cm scalp wound sustained in a head clash with teammate Joel Edwards against Brisbane last August.

That incident came in his first game back after losing a dollar coin-sized chunk of skin from his forehead when stomped on by Canberra’s Josh Dugan a fortnight earlier.

The Knights went back to work yesterday after Bennett gave them a week off following their 32-16 loss to the Raiders, but players were unavailable to speak to media representatives who had watched training.

That could suggest Bennett or club management have adopted a siege mentality in the wake of recent criticism from members, fans and the media, or they want to minimise distractions for players in the lead-up to a must-win game against a title contender.

The Knights (12 points) have lost five straight games since their last win, 34-14 against Penrith seven weeks ago, and have slipped to 14th ahead of only the Panthers and Eels.

One of only four teams to have already collected four points from two byes, Newcastle have won just four of 13 games and are six points adrift of the top eight with 11 matches to go.

Apart from welcoming back Uate from NSW duty, fullback Darius Boyd will return after he missed the loss to Canberra due to his Origin commitments with Queensland.

Boyd and Uate were excused from training yesterday, and will return later in the week.

Their return to the side for the Tigers game means Peter Mata’utia and Kevin Naiqama, who filled in against the Raiders, are likely to drop back to the NSW Cup ranks for the game against Balmain Ryde-Eastwood at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday.

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