Knights winger Nathan Ross has been dropped to reserve grade by Newcastle coach Nathan Brown after the City representative made a public plea for a “fair” deal.
Much to the dismay of Knights fans, Brown made the call on Thursday following comments by Ross – one of the competition’s leading tryscorers – regarding a contract upgrade at the club and potentially considering offers from elsewhere.
It means Ross will miss the NRL clash with Penrith at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday afternoon and instead play NSW Cup against the Panthers at the same venue from 11.45am.
Punters on social media largely opposed the decision and some even called for supporters to boycott the round 11 encounter.
In polls conducted on the Herald website, 75 per cent of voters said Ross should not be dropped, while in another poll, 85 per cent thought he deserved a pay rise.
Ross, 28, signed a two-year extension in August, believed to be worth around $150,000 a season. And while Brown said he understood the current climate for players, he was disappointed with how Ross handled the matter.
“Firstly, we’re probably in a bit of a rare situation at the minute for all clubs that the [salary] cap is going to rise by a rather large portion, 20 or 25 percent roughly in that vicinity,” he said.
“We haven’t seen this happen since the Super League days and rightly so, players that are on contract and probably not earning what their current market value is would like to get a piece of the pie.
“And we’ve seen this at every club, not only the Rossy situation. But there are certainly ways you handle it and I’d suggest Rossy didn’t handle it in the correct manner.”
Brown’s reaction to Dane Gagai’s ongoing contract negotiations, which have the Knights sole State of Origin representative linked to the South Sydney Rabbitohs, was of stark contrast.
“Gags [Gagai] has handled himself great during the whole situation and I’m sure he will continue to handle himself well until a decision is made,” Brown said.
Gagai remains at fullback.
Ross, whose partner Nikea gave birth to their second child on Tuesday, trained alongside his new teammates and against his former ones in an opposed session at Knights headquarters on Thursday morning.
Ross’ spot on the left edge was taken by Brendan Elliot, who now returns to the top grade and will line up next to centre Peter Mata’utia this weekend.
Other changes in the last-placed Newcastle squad may be forced by injuries sustained from their 34-20 victory over the Canberra Raiders at home on Mother’s Day.
“We’ve got a few blokes carrying niggles,” Brown said.
“Whether they make it or not, we’ll have to wait and see.”
The Knights’ second win of 2017 could be costly with halfback Jaelen Feeney (knee) and utility forward Anthony Tupou (hip) both in doubt after second-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon (knee) was already ruled out.
Feeney and Tupou have until Saturday to prove their fitness.
Brown said dumped playmaker Trent Hodkinson would replace Feeney.
Jack Stockwell would more than likely slot in for Tupou.