Knights poised to re-sign Chris Houston, in hunt for Luke Lewis

THE Knights are poised to re-sign Chris Houston for two more years, ending speculation that the workhorse second-rower was headed to Penrith, and are in the hunt to sign Test forward Luke Lewis.

Lewis has told the Knights they are one of the clubs he would be interested in joining.

In another development involving both clubs, the Knights have released experienced utility back Wes Naiqama from the last two years of his three-year contract to join the Panthers for the next two seasons.

Naiqama will play out the rest of this season with the Knights and join Penrith on November 1.

The Newcastle Herald has been told Houston and the Knights are close to settling terms on a new two-year deal and hope to make an official announcement next week.

The 27-year-old joined the Knights from the Dragons at the end of 2007.

Houston is coming to the end of a two-year contract, which included an option in his favour for a third season.

He signed that deal in December 2010, 10 days after four drugs supply charges against him were dropped in Newcastle Local Court.

There was speculation in Sydney yesterday that Houston, the NRL’s third-top tackler this season, was leaning towards accepting a three-year offer from the Panthers, but a Penrith source denied this late yesterday.

Earlier yesterday, Knights coach Wayne Bennett said Lewis was a player he would like to sign but the chances of that happening would be determined by several factors, many of which were out of his and the club’s control.

But Bennett would be heartened to hear Lewis rates the Knights as a legitimate suitor.

The Herald was told yesterday that Lewis has a high regard for the club, for Newcastle as a new home town, and for Bennett, who coached him in the NRL All Stars game in February.

Lewis and Dragons skipper Ben Hornby were Bennett’s two ‘‘coach’s selections’’ for that game.

Bennett indicated that by joining the race for Lewis, who said this week that he would be leaving Penrith at the end of the season, the Knights would have to reassess the status of some players who are off contract or contracted beyond this season.

‘‘No, it’s not totally pie-in-the-sky stuff, no, but again, we may have to revisit some things there,’’ Bennett said when asked about the 28-year-old NSW and Australian mainstay.

‘‘We will talk to him, I hope. We’re certainly interested in him, and it’s just a case of what the price is out there and whether we can get near it or we can’t, and whether someone’s offering ridiculous amounts and noone’s going to be able to match it.

‘‘Clubs have different requirements and different priorities.

‘‘Parramatta, for example, they may be able to pay a hell of a lot more than any of us, because they badly need a player like him and [Nathan] Hindmarsh is retiring for them.’’

Bennett said the retention and recruitment of players was a difficult matter to deal with in-season, but every Knights player ‘‘knows where they stand’’.

‘‘There’s probably a few things happening that I really can’t discuss at the moment, but we’re active out there and we’re looking for some players for certain positions,’’ he said.

Naiqama, who has played 75 NRL games for the Knights in the past five seasons since arriving from the Dragons, has been named at five-eighth for Newcastle’s NSW Cup team against Cronulla at Henson Park today.

“We would like to thank Wes for his contribution to our club over the last five years,” Knights chief executive Matt Gidley said in a statement on the club’s website.

“Wes leaves with our best wishes and we hope he can recapture some of the form he has displayed throughout his time at our club in his new environment at Penrith.”

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