KIWI international Junior Sa’u is excited about the future but focused on the present after re-signing with the Knights for two more seasons.
After protracted negotiations dating back more than six months, Sa’u put his signature on a contract extension this week.
And the powerful centre is confident Newcastle will not have to wait until the Wayne Bennett era kicks off next year to challenge for the NRL title.
He believes the Knights, who are ninth and could move into the top eight with a win against Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval on Monday night, are capable of surging up the ladder in the second half of the season when they play eight of 12 games at home.
‘‘We’ve got a job to do this year,’’ Sa’u said yesterday.
‘‘We’ve got the boys to do it. Most of us have been playing here for four years now and pretty much know each others’ games inside out.
‘‘We’ve got a good coaching staff, [Rick Stone] and his crew, and all the boys have got faith in them.
‘‘We’re not even focusing on next year.
‘‘There’s a job to do this year and we’ve got the boys to do it.’’
Sa’u said Newcastle, hindered by injuries and a tough run of road trips early in the season, were still building towards their best football.
‘‘The best is to come,’’ he said.
‘‘Unfortunately since round one and two, we’ve been without our full team. We’re still missing the likes of Adam MacDougall and now we’ve got Jarrod [Mullen] out.
‘‘But we’ve got a lot of depth and I’ve got full confidence in whoever steps into their spot.
‘‘We’ve just got to take it game by game. We’ve got the Tigers this week and it’s a must-win game, and I’m very confident we can do the job.’’
Sa’u declared himself a certain starter for Monday’s game after missing two matches with an ankle injury.
The nine-Test veteran debuted for Newcastle in 2008, after being signed on spec by then coach Brian Smith, and has now played in 66 NRL games for the Knights.
Asked about the possibility of becoming a one-club player, Sa’u replied, ‘‘That’s the goal, but who knows what could happen.
‘‘I call Newcastle my home now. This is where it all started for me.
‘‘I debuted here and this is my fourth season, and I really love it in Newcastle.
‘‘I’m looking forward to being here for many years to come.’’
Sa’u said he had a ‘‘lot of respect’’ for Bennett, who phoned him after learning the 24-year-old had agreed to terms.
But he also acknowledged the contributions of his first two NRL coaches.
‘‘I’m just thankful, first and foremost, to Smithy and Stoney for giving me the opportunity to fulfil my dream and having faith in me,’’ he said.
Stone said Sa’u’s progression from little-known Canberra reserve-grader to NRL mainstay with Newcastle and a Test player was ‘‘a good story’’.
‘‘He came here with not a lot behind him, but he worked really hard and got a chance to be a regular first-grader and play for his country,’’ Stone said.
‘‘It’s good for him and the club that he’ll be staying here.’’