THE Knights are out of the race to sign Luke Lewis, leaving the disenchanted former Panthers captain at the centre of a tug of war between Wests Tigers and Cronulla.
Sources have told the Newcastle Herald the Knights were unable to get close to what the Sharks and Tigers have offered the 28-year-old NSW and Australian back-rower, though Lewis had given Newcastle serious consideration as a possible new home.
The Knights’ policy is to not comment on player recruitment or retention.
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan said last night that, as far as he was aware, Lewis still had not decided which club he would play for next season.
If Lewis plumped to play for Cronulla, it would enhance Newcastle’s chances of acquiring Sharks enforcer Jeremy Smith.
That would still hinge on the Sharks agreeing to release Smith from the final year of his contract, and Flanagan has said several times recently that they were not prepared to do that.
Off-contract Knights forward Joel Edwards is understood to be considering an offer to join Canberra, who made a bid for Lewis but fell short of the best bid.
The Herald has been told Edwards’s manager, Darryl Mather, also spoke to Penrith about the 24-year-old Cessnock junior, but the Panthers could not fit him into their salary cap.
Edwards knocked back a three-year deal to re-sign with the Knights last Christmas and is now contemplating a revised offer of a two-year extension.
The Herald has been told Edwards is likely to reject the Raiders’ bid.
Mather told the Herald this month that he would no longer comment about negotiations involving his players.
The Knights are still settling details of Chris Houston’s contract extension, and negotiations with Willie Mason are continuing.
Penrith signed Knights back Wes Naiqama to a two-year deal starting at the end of this season, after Newcastle agreed last Friday to release him from the last two years of his contract.
Lewis was shown last night in a Channel Nine news report house-hunting in the Cronulla district yesterday, which strengthened speculation he would join the Sharks when he leaves the Panthers at the end of the season.
But, according to Flanagan, the Sharks were still waiting for Lewis to declare his intentions.
‘‘I would love to have something to say about Luke and our club,’’ Flanagan said.
‘‘But he hasn’t done anything with us at this stage and we haven’t been informed that he has done anything anywhere else.
‘‘I’m sure we would be informed out of courtesy if Luke had made a decision to join a different club.
‘‘As far as I know, he is still making up his mind, so we’ll wait to see what happens.’’
Lewis rocked the league world last week when he was granted a release from the final year of his contract with the Panthers. He is playing out the rest of this season before moving on.
Thirteen clubs expressed interest, but the Sharks, Wests Tigers, Eels, Knights and Raiders were those considered to be on his shortlist.
The Sharks and Wests Tigers are the clear favourites, and Lewis has good friends at both clubs.
There is talk he will live in the Shire even if he does not join the Sharks, but the sight of him looking at houses is bound to make Cronulla fans excited.