BARBA SHOP: Knights in market for Dogs livewire

THE Knights are chasing Bulldogs bench sparkplug Ben Barba, are still interested in luring Melbourne's Brett Finch back to Newcastle, and have kicked off negotiations with their own playmaker Ben Rogers.

The Herald has been told Newcastle and North Queensland have made 20-year-old Barba firm offers, and premiers Melbourne have expressed interest in the dynamic but diminutive Darwin-born utility.

The 2008 NYC leading tryscorer (28) and pointscorer (260), Barba has played 14 NRL games in the past three seasons, mostly off the bench, but is keen to secure a starting berth.

The likelihood of veteran Brett Kimmorley remaining at the Bulldogs for another season means Barba is prepared to leave Canterbury to pursue his goals, and it emerged yesterday that Newcastle are a strong contender for his services.

"We want to hurry up and make our decision with Ben," his manager Gavin Orr said yesterday.

"There's a bit of interest in him but his main priority is to stay.

"That said, we've got to be sensible and see who's ahead of him. As Ben said to me today, 'I can't see myself playing off the bench forever.' Either he starts playing five-eighth or he has to start looking at other options."

Orr said a decision about Barba's future would not be based on how much money he could earn.

"It's about who's there in front there and being able to play footy. I think Ben's been pretty patient. He's doing exactly what Kevvy [coach Kevin Moore] wants him to do at the moment," he said.

"But he's a starting player. He's been a starting player in every team he has been in, and he's been a star as well, whether it be the 20s or reserve grade.

"I know you've got to give them time to play in first grade, and I'm not the coach, but I've got to look after Ben's interests.

"A couple of clubs have expressed to me that he'd be straight in their team."

Knights strategic development manager Keith Onslow was the Bulldogs' recruitment manager responsible for signing the 17-year-old prodigy from Mackay in 2007.

Onslow was coy when asked yesterday about Newcastle's interest in Barba but said: "Ben Barba will always be a player of interest to me, having brought him from the bush to Belmore."

Ensuring they have more than one iron in the fire as they try to sign a scrumbase strike weapon to partner Jarrod Mullen, the Knights are still keen on Finch and remain open-minded about retaining the services of Rogers and Scott Dureau.

Steve Gillis, who manages Finch and Rogers, said he had "opened negotiations" with Onslow about Rogers but the Knights were yet to make a formal offer.

"We've begun talking. I need to sit down with Benny and see where he's at and just work through it but as far as I'm aware, he's very happy at the club," Gillis said about Rogers, who has been sounded out by a European rugby union club.

As for Finch, Gillis said the Knights had not made an offer.

"I've read what they've said [about Finch] but I don't know whether the club knows which direction it's going to take, so I'm certainly not going to rush them," he said.

"If they're interested, they'll make an approach in their good time."

Onslow confirmed he had spoken to Gillis about Rogers but said there had been no formal discussions about Finch, the former Knights ballboy who has played a total of 242 NRL games for the Raiders, Roosters, Eels and Storm and won a premiership with Melbourne last year.

After Melbourne beat the Knights last month, Finch told The Herald he was receptive to the idea of playing for his home-town team.

Knights coach Rick Stone said at the time: "We're just exploring all avenues, and that includes Brett Finch . . . he's the type of bloke I think would fit in OK at our place."

In the current issue of Rugby League Week magazine, Finch said: "Being a Newcastle boy, I would definitely be interested if something came that way."

? Cronulla centre Ben Pomeroy will miss the game against Newcastle at Toyota Stadium on Saturday night because of a finger injury.

Sharks coach Ricky Stuart is yet to name a replacement.

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