Robert Dillon: Sporting Declaration

DILEMMA: Shaun Kenny-Dowall has not played since he was arrested allegedly in possession of cocaine. Should the Knights consider signing him? Picture: Getty Images

DILEMMA: Shaun Kenny-Dowall has not played since he was arrested allegedly in possession of cocaine. Should the Knights consider signing him? Picture: Getty Images

OTHERS might disagree, but Sporting Declaration reckons Shaun Kenny-Dowall would look pretty good right now in Newcastle’s backline.

If the Knights are able to sign him before the June 30 deadline, he might even help them win a few games before the season is out and avoid the ignominy of a third successive wooden spoon.

Kenny-Dowall can produce an ungainly fumble, but the bottom line is his career CV casts a shadow over those belonging to the outside backs currently employed by Newcastle.

He’s played in 224 NRL games, two grand finals (including the Roosters’ 2013 title triumph), 20 Tests for New Zealand and made two appearances in the annual All Stars fixture.

His first-grade try tally of 121 is surpassed by only five current players: Billy Slater (177), Manu Vatuvei (152), Greg Inglis (139), Brett Morris (134) and Michael Jennings (125).

He’s tough – as evidenced by soldiering on in the 2013 grand final despite suffering a broken jaw – and at 29, he should have a few good seasons left in him.

In light of Dane Gagai’s departure to South Sydney at season’s end, SKD would appear a ready-made replacement as right-side centre.

If he was judged solely from a football perspective, I’d say it would be a no-brainer for the Knights to sign him, given the chance. 

Unfortunately for Kenny-Dowall, his on-field performances are not the sum total of all that warrants scrutiny.

Next week he will be judged in a far more daunting arena, Downing Centre Local Court, where he will face a charge of possessing half a gram of cocaine in a Sydney nightclub in May.

He has not played since his arrest, after being stood down by the Roosters, who announced his release earlier this week.

All the while, the Knights have been monitoring the situation. Before Kenny-Dowall’s alleged transgression, Newcastle had been close to signing him to a four-year contract.

They were subsequently reported to have drawn a red line through his name, but speculation (which has not been denied by the club) is rife that the Kiwi international is still very much in their sights.

It seems the Knights are hoping, as was the case with former Cronulla chairman Damian Keogh recently, that even if Kenny-Dowall is found guilty of cocaine possession, he may escape without a conviction being recorded.

If that’s how it pans out, Newcastle may well feel inclined to believe they are entitled to throw Kenny-Dowall a lifeline.

After all, Kiwi forwards Jess Bromwich and Kevin Proctor, who were caught on CCTV snorting cocaine just 24 hours after Kenny-Dowall’s arrest, are both back playing after being fined and suspended.

The landscape has changed since the days when players were automatically sacked by clubs for recreational-drugs offences.

These days there is a two-strike policy in place as part of the NRL’s collective-bargaining agreement.

All of which lends weight to the argument that the Knights are within their rights to decide SKD is worthy of a second chance.

Except … ah, yes, there’s always an except.

Except that Newcastle is no ordinary club when it comes to drugs scandals.

Indeed, if the West Coast Eagles of a decade ago were the drug-tainted heavyweights of Australian sport, the Knights probably feature in the semi-finals with Essendon and Cronulla.

First came the steroid-related suspensions of Robbie O’Davis, Adam MacDougall and Wayne Richards less than a year after Newcastle’s 1997 grand final triumph.

A decade later, Newcastle’s greatest player, Andrew Johns, admitted to abusing recreational drugs throughout his celebrated career.

In 2009, Danny Wicks was arrested and eventually jailed for 18 months after pleading guilty to distributing cocaine and ecstasy, while Chris Houston spent a year on the sidelines before similar charges were dropped.

Most recently, Jarrod Mullen received a four-year ban that appears to have ended his career for receiving an injection of a banned steroid to repair a chronic hamstring injury.

With all that in mind, it is perhaps no surprise that Knights chairman Brian McGuigan expressed a certain reticence this week when asked about Kenny-Dowall:  “We have been very, very careful to ensure that we do not have any of that sort of problem coming into our club. We’ve had it in the past and we don’t want it in the future.’’

And therein lies the moral dilemma facing the Knights and, in particular, coach Nathan Brown.

For everything that Kenny-Dowall offers on game day, is he worth the risk?

Even if he hadn’t consumed any cocaine back in May, why was it (allegedly) in his pocket? And why have the Roosters released a player who could come in handy in their premiership quest?

It would be easy to reach the conclusion that Newcastle should be allowed to play by the same rules as every other club.

I guess it’s a question of priorities. What is more important: a player who helps win games, or a player with a squeaky-clean reputation who is a good role model?

Sometimes, unfortunately, they are not one and the same.

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