Bennett takes punt on veteran hard man

KNIGHTS coach Wayne Bennett worked wonders with controversial recruits Willie Mason and Dane Gagai this year.

The seven-time premiership-winning coach and father figure hopes to do the same with former South Sydney bad boy David Fa'alogo, who the Knights have confirmed will join the club next season on a one-year deal that includes a performance-based option for 2014.

The 32-year-old former New Zealand Test forward, who will join fellow internationals Beau Scott (Dragons) and Jeremy Smith (Sharks) as Newcastle's major off-season recruits next year, played 142 NRL games for Souths between 2003 and 2009.

He has spent the past three seasons at Huddersfield Giants in the English Super League after Souths sacked him in September 2009 for punching Jason Taylor, their coach at the time, at a Mad Monday drinking session.

Fa'alogo had already signed to play for Huddersfield, but Souths terminated his and Taylor's contracts.

That was the second serious off-field indiscretion Fa'alogo had been involved in during his seven-year career at Souths.

He was sent home from the Rabbitohs' pre-season trip to the United States in January 2008 and reportedly fined $10,000 by the club for punching a man at a Florida taxi rank.

Fa'alogo said in a statement at the time: "Even though I was provoked in this incident, I understand my responsibilities as a player in the NRL."

On the field, Fa'alogo was suspended for seven games in September 2007 after the NRL judiciary found him guilty of grade-four striking - a charge arising from him punching Braith Anasta in the face in a 26-12 loss to the Roosters at ANZ Stadium.

Mason has been linked to a long list of mostly mischievous rather than malicious off-field incidents during his colourful career, and Gagai was sacked by the Broncos in March for similar issues, but Bennett got the best out of both of them after they joined the Knights mid-season.

Bennett, who as an assistant coach worked closely with Fa'alogo in New Zealand's victorious 2008 World Cup team, indicated in a media statement yesterday that the Auckland-born enforcer still had something to prove in the NRL and "he feels he owes a lot to rugby league".

The coach expected Fa'alogo to make the same impact veteran hooker Danny Buderus did this season after three years in England with Leeds Rhinos.

"He wanted to finish his career in Australia and at a club that is going places; that is pretty much the conversation we had," Bennett said.

"He is coming here for the right reasons; he isn't coming here for the money but he feels he owes a lot to rugby league and wanted to come and finish his career in Australia playing good footy."

Bennett was New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney's right-hand man at the 2008 World Cup, which the Kiwis won by shocking Australia 34-20 in the final at Suncorp Stadium. Fa'alogo and Smith, who has signed a three-year deal with Newcastle, started in New Zealand's back row.

"I worked with David in 2008 at the World Cup final and I liked what he brought to the team," Bennett said.

"He has been overseas for three years, the same as Danny, and we have all seen what he brought back. People who have played with or against David will tell you he is a good player and he is the type of player I like to coach; committed and you know they are going to get the job done."

Meanwhile, Knights forwards Alex McKinnon and Korbin Sims have been named in the Junior Kangaroos team to play the Junior Kiwis in the curtain-raiser to the trans-Tasman Test in Townsville on October 13.

Knights fullback Darius Boyd was selected on the wing for Australia but teammate Aku Uate, who won his third straight Dally M winger of the year award last month, lost his spot to St George Illawarra's Brett Morris.

It was the second time this season that Uate lost a representative jersey to Morris, who replaced him at the end of the NSW back line for the State of Origin decider in Brisbane on July 4.

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