Rugby League: Uncertainty grows over immediate playing future of Souths-bound Newcastle Knight Dane Gagai

BUNNY HOP: Newcastle Knights fullback Dane Gagai is expected to confirm next week that he has signed with South Sydney. Picture: Getty Images

BUNNY HOP: Newcastle Knights fullback Dane Gagai is expected to confirm next week that he has signed with South Sydney. Picture: Getty Images

DANE Gagai will line up in his 116th game for Newcastle when the Knights take on Penrith at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday.

But how many more times the 26-year-old dons the red and blue remains to be seen.

The Knights insist that Gagai has not officially informed the club that he has accepted a three-year $2.1 million to join South Sydney from 2018. 

That news is expected to be confirmed next week, at which point it should become clearer if he is going to play out the remainder of this season for the Knights.

Sources inside the club said the Maroons Origin star has shown no indication that he wants to leave early.

But, by the same token, it was a similar scenario with Joseph Tapine and Sims brothers Tariq and Korbin. In all three cases, the club relented and the players left mid contract. Tapine joined Canberra a year ahead of schedule, Tariq Sims bailed mid-last season to link with the Dragons and younger sibling Korbin moved to Brisbane at the start of 2017.

Gagai is one of the Knights’ biggest earners and the money they  save on the balance of his contract could be added to a war chest to sign at least two marquee players.

On the flipside, he is the club’s only Origin player and most dangerous back. The centre-turned-fullback leads the team in tackle busts with 51, 30 more than next best Nathan Ross. His eight offloads are second to Mitch Barnett (nine).

It is unclear if Souths would have room in the salary cap to accommodate Gagai this season.

The Knights have previously entertained player swaps. Five-eighth Cody Walker is in a contract dispute with the Rabbitohs and a potential option. 

As the past month has shown, anything is possible in the current player market.

Manly prop Darcy Lussick was on Friday linked to a move to the Hunter.

The Knights have the bye next round and Gagai is then likely to be in camp with the Queensland side ahead of the series opener. 

The deadline for player registration is June 30.

For now, the focus is on Sunday and Penrith.

The Knights were thrashed 40-0 by the Panthers at Pepper Stadium in round four.

“The Penrith game was over after 25 minutes, probably the only occasion this year that has happened to us and we certainly were embarrassed,” Brown said. 

The Knights recorded a resounding 34-20 triumph over Canberra at home last round. Nathan Ross (dropped), Tyler Randell (dropped) and Lachlan Fitzgibbon (knee) have been replaced by Brendan Elliot, Mitch Barnett and Sam Stone.

Halfback Jaelen Feeney (knee) faces a fitness test which could facilitate the return of Trent Hodkinson.

Anthony Tupou (hip) is also in doubt.

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