DANE Gagai insists his focus is on the Knights and has refused to buy into speculation that the Origin star is poised to sign a lucrative three-year deal with South Sydney.
The 26-year-old has an option in his favour at the Knights, which effectively makes him a free agent.
The Knights have been working for weeks to tie up the club’s only Origin player as they attempt to lure other elite players to the Hunter.
But in the wake of a stirring 34-20 triumph over Canberra – the club’s third win in 18 months – their biggest name appears set to depart.
The Newcastle Herald has been told a three-year $2.1 million deal for Gagai to join the Rabbitohs is “basically done”.
Asked on Monday about his future Gagai said: “My focus is here at the knights for the year and getting into the top eight”.
Knights coach Nathan Brown said in a radio interview on Monday that he was hopeful of retaining the star attacker.
“We love Dane,” he said. “We know he'd love to stay but also that the market's very hot at the moment.”
Knights chief executive Matt Gidley confirmed last week that the Knights have resources to sign two “genuine marquee” players and have held talks with Cooper Cronk and James Graham.
They have offered Gagai a “very good” deal but Brown conceded that the NRL-owned franchise may not be able to match third party agreements other clubs are able to procure.
“What someone may be able to afford to pay Gags and what we may be able to afford could be two different things,” Brown said.
“In an ideal world Gags would stay. Deep, deep down I know he’d love to stay but I also know he has a young family as well. What ends up happening I don’t know but hopefully it works in our favour.”
Cronulla, the Roosters and St George Illawarra have also expressed an interest in Gagai, who is the highest profile centre on the market.
The Herald understands part of the attraction to Souths is an opportunity to play alongside fellow Queenslander and indigenous leader Greg Inglis.
South Sydney utility John Sutton laid out the welcome mat for Gagai on Monday.
“He is a good player and has been playing well for the Knights,” Sutton said. “If that is the case it would be a real good signing for the club.”
If Gagai does sign with the Rabbitohs, it remains to be seen if he plays out the season at the Knights.
Brown created a precedent when he released Tariq (Dragons) and Korbin Sims (Broncos) and Joseph Tarpine (Raiders) early.
Gagai has not given up on the Knights making the finals.
“Finals football is not out of my sights,” he said. “It started with a win against the Raiders. We have to make sure we back that up now and hopefully string a few more together.”
Meanwhile, Jacob Saifiti could take is place in the side against Penrith on Sunday despite being taken to hospital after injurying his neck against the Raiders.
Scans cleared the second-rower of major damage and he will be assessed later in the week. Josh Starling (hand) and Lachlan Fitzgibbon (knee) could also line up against the Panthers.