Knights, Simpson tread carefully as crunch time looms in contract talks

HOW well he recovers from surgery on a chronic knee injury will determine whether the Knights offer former NSW and Australian second-rower Steve Simpson a new contract for next season.

Simpson had an arthroscopy three weeks ago to trim torn cartilage and make other running repairs.

At the latest, he hopes to return for Newcastle's game against North Queensland in Townsville on July 24.

But the 30-year-old veteran of 216 NRL games, 13 State of Origin matches and seven Tests is off contract at the end of this season and his hopes of earning a Knights contract for 2011 will hinge on his troublesome right knee.

Knights coach Rick Stone said he spoke to Simpson yesterday for a progress report and to arrange a meeting in the next few weeks to discuss his future.

The Knights have signed representative forwards Antonio Kaufusi (Cowboys) and Neville Costigan (Dragons) and highly rated Sharks under-20s back-rower Kyle O'Donnell in the past week and are reported to be in negotiations with at least two other forwards.

Stone said he wanted all the relevant medical information before making a decision on the popular, long-serving clubman.

"Ideally, if we've got enough time, we'd like to wait a couple of weeks and see how it comes up and see what sort of longevity he might have in it before we've got to make a decision," Stone said.

"We want to give Simmo the respect he deserves, being a 13- or 14-year veteran of the club, and he's got to understand that the decision we come to has got to be in the best interests for everyone - for Steve Simpson and the footy club.

"We've just got to make sure we sit down and go through all levels of understanding and making sure that when we reach a decision - and it mightn't be the best one for Simmo - but we want to give him every chance to play if he's physically capable."

Stone said he hoped Simpson made a full recovery and could make a meaningful contribution for the rest of this season and beyond.

"The thing I said today with Simmo is making sure that we're respectful, we're transparent and we're honest with each other about where we're going," he said.

"I think if we can stick to those sort of guidelines, both parties will at least be comfortable that we've gone through all the processes to make sure that we come up with the right decision."

Simpson acknowledged the signing of players such as Kaufusi and Costigan and the fact that he is no longer a representative player as he was when he signed his last contract in 2007, meant any new deal would be on reduced terms.

But he said his priority was making his knee healthy and strong and playing again this season.

"I'll be talking to Stoney in the next couple of weeks, see how my knee goes and see what happens, I suppose," Simpson said.

"What I said a week or so ago, nothing's changed really. Hopefully my knee gets better, I get back on the field soon and we'll go from there . . .

"Obviously there's a bit of water to go under the bridge. When I signed my last contract, I was a regular in the Origin side, so I suppose we'll just have to sit down and talk about all that and go from there."

Simpson dismissed a newspaper report that linked him to a captain-coaching position with Newcastle Rugby League club Maitland.

Pickers officials took a call this month from someone they understood was an agent representing Simpson, inquiring about the position being vacated by Noel Dent at the end of this season.

"Nah mate, I don't know where that came from," Simpson said.

"It was news to me. It didn't come from me."

? Knights winger Kevin Naiqama has been rewarded for his outstanding NSW Cup form for Central Coast Centurions by being named in the NSW Residents side to play Queensland Residents in the curtain-raiser to the third State of Origin game in Sydney on July 7.

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