THE Knights lucked out in the Luke Lewis lottery but could still grab a pretty handy consolation prize in Jeremy Smith.
The Sharks announced yesterday that they had signed Lewis to a four-year deal, effective from the end of the season, after he asked for and was granted a release from Penrith two weeks ago.
The 28-year-old NSW and Australian back-rower chose Cronulla ahead of four other serious suitors, the Tigers, Knights, Eels and Raiders, and eight other teams who expressed interest.
The Knights bowed out of the race for Lewis this week when they conceded they could not match the money the Sharks and Tigers were prepared to spend on the disgruntled former Penrith skipper, who was spotted house-hunting at Cronulla on Wednesday.
There was speculation in Sydney yesterday that after snaring Lewis, the Sharks would be prepared to release Smith from the final year of his contract to join the Knights at the end of this season.
The Knights’ policy is to not comment on issues pertaining to recruitment and retention.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan has been asked several times in the past two weeks whether they would release the 32-year-old back-rower, becoming more exasperated with each denial.
Flanagan has said the Lewis deal would not impact on their ability to retain Smith for the final year of his contract, but the story linking Smith to the Knights will not go away.
As reported in the Newcastle Herald on Monday, based on discussions on Sky Sports Radio and reports in the Sun-Herald the day before, the Knights hope to recruit Smith, who they pursued two years ago only to see him sign a three-year deal with the Sharks.
When he took the reins at St George Illawarra at the end of 2008, Knights coach Wayne Bennett signed Smith from Melbourne, where the hard-nosed Kiwi Test enforcer made three straight grand final appearances between 2006 and 2008.
Under Bennett, Smith was one of the Dragons’ leading lights when they won the 2010 premiership, but salary cap constraints meant they could not keep him and he chose to continue his career with the Sharks instead of the Knights.
Bennett has already signed Beau Scott, who partnered Smith in the back row when the Dragons beat the Roosters 32-8 in the 2010 decider.
Fullback Darius Boyd and utility forward Neville Costigan, two other members of that title-winning Dragons squad, are already on the Newcastle roster.
Still living in Wollongong, Smith has apparently grown tired of the regular F6 commute but instead of rejoining the Dragons, the Herald has been told he would prefer to pack up his family and relocate to Newcastle.
Whether that happens will depend on whether the Sharks are prepared to release him when the time comes for him to front Flanagan and club management and ask for one.
If that happens, the Sharks will have to handle it delicately so as not to upset the team’s charge to their first finals series since 2008, or the feelings of members and fans.
It is understood influential figures at Cronulla still harbour some ill will towards the Knights as a result of Kade Snowden’s decision to return to Newcastle last year.
Snowden had agreed to re-sign with the Sharks early last year until an 11th hour phone call from soon-to-be Knights owner Nathan Tinkler.
The billionaire mining tycoon convinced Snowden to hold off then ensured the former NSW and Australian prop was one of several former Knights to return to the Hunter.
Do not expect the Knights or Sharks to make any formal announcement about Smith’s intentions any time soon, but Bennett – and Tinkler – usually get what they want.
They would have loved to have seen Lewis wearing a blue and red jersey, but Newcastle’s coach and owner rate Smith as anything but a second prize.