MID-SEASON recruit Dane Gagai said he joined the Knights to become a better person and a better footballer under Wayne Bennett.
After signing a new two-year contract with Brisbane in March, Gagai was cut by the Broncos early last month after a series of minor breaches of their disciplinary code but the former Junior Kangaroo believes he can fulfil his potential in Newcastle.
Courted by several NRL clubs and Super Rugby defending champions Queensland Reds, the 21-year-old utility back signed with the Knights late last month until the end of 2014 to have his career and life moulded by Bennett, who coached his father Ray in the Broncos’ formative years.
Gagai scored a try in his Knights debut in their 32-16 last-start loss to Canberra on June 9, and he will line up at right centre inside dumped NSW winger Aku Uate against Wests Tigers at Hunter Stadium tonight.
Uate has recovered from a groin strain and ran freely at training yesterday and is expected to take his place on the wing tonight as the Knights try to end a five-game losing streak.
‘‘It’s been a bit of a learning curve but what I’ve done is to put all of that behind me and dedicate myself to Newcastle and giving everything I can to them, because they’ve given me a great opportunity to play for the club and represent what they’re about,’’ Gagai told the Newcastle Herald after training yesterday.
‘‘There were a few opportunities where I could have gone back to rugby or gone to another league club, but in the end I made the decision based on a personal one, where I felt I was going to better myself as a player and a person away from the field.
‘‘I had a few meetings with Wayne and being able to train under him is a great honour, and I believe he’s the type of person who can help me develop and grow as a player and a person.
‘‘There were a few things hanging over my head at Brisbane and I was struggling to shrug that, but it’s been good here because it’s been a fresh start and none of that has been brought up and I’m glad everyone has stayed away from that sort of stuff.
‘‘Being able to come into a team that’s got such highly valued players who can take me under their wing and guide me, that’s been great for me.’’
When the Knights signed Gagai, Bennett told the Herald the Mackay-born former Queensland junior league and schoolboys rugby union representative was a ‘‘rare talent’’.
‘‘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,’’ he said.
Flattered by Bennett’s comments, Gagai modestly laughed when asked to explain exactly what those skills were.
‘‘It is good hearing those things, but in the end it’s how I perform on the day and I’m not going to let a few words fill my head,’’ he said.
‘‘I’m just going to go out and do the best I can and try to help the club in any way I can.’’
Forward Zane Tetevano has been included alongside Zeb Taia, Adam Cuthbertson and Alex McKinnon on the bench after back-up hooker Chris Adams played in Newcastle’s 36-28 NSW Cup victory over Balmain Ryde Eastwood at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday.
The Knights have not lost six in a row since 2007.
‘‘We definitely have the side to win games, so like I said before, we want to put the last couple of weeks behind us and move forward from here and start again,’’ Gagai said.
Meanwhile, out-of-favour front-rower Richie Fa’aoso is expected to finalise his future in the next few days and is reportedly considering offers from Melbourne and Manly.
It is understood Fa’aoso is considering leaving the Knights before Saturday, the transfer deadline for this season, if he can negotiate the right deal in time.