THE Knights will step up their pursuit of Dragons front-rower Adam Cuthbertson because of Antonio Kaufusi's decision to sign a three-year deal with Super League's London Harlequins.
Kaufusi was contracted to Newcastle until the end of next year but was told in May that he would be allowed to leave at the end of this season if he could find another club and those arrangements were settled on Thursday when the Harlequins said he was London-bound.
The Knights have been linked to Cuthbertson since mid-season and the 26-year-old former Manly and Cronulla ball player has made no secret of his desire to continue his career under his Dragons mentor, Wayne Bennett, at the Knights next year.
Newcastle officials have held preliminary discussions with Cuthbertson's manager, Andrew Purcell, with a view to signing him to a two-year contract.
Though Kaufusi's decision did not free up any significant room under the salary cap, Knights chief executive Matt Gidley said it had helped clarify their playing roster for next year.
"Now that that's happened, we can sit back and have a closer look at exactly where we are with our 2012 squad," Gidley said.
"Adam Cuthbertson has featured in some discussions but until now, until we knew exactly where we sat for 2012, we didn't want to anticipate anything.
"If Antonio had decided to stay, until we knew what was happening with all those guys who have been asked to explore other options, we weren't really in a position to look elsewhere.
"I'd imagine I'll sit down now with [Knights strategic development manager] Keith Onslow and we'll have a closer look at where we are for 2012, what's available, what we need and what suits Wayne, of course."
The loss of Kaufusi, Cory Paterson (Cowboys), Mark Taufua (Sharks) and Cameron Ciraldo (Panthers) has diluted the club's forward stocks, so a player such as Cuthbertson, who has consistently played to his potential under Bennett this year, would be a welcome addition.
"He's someone who has featured in discussions but, as I said, up until now we haven't really been clear on where we sit for 2012," Gidley said.
"But we'll look into that and certainly someone in around the forward pack, that would be an area that we would be exploring."
Purcell told The Sun-Herald last month that Cuthbertson had not ruled out staying at the Dragons but had turned his career around under Bennett. Cuthbertson has made it clear he wants his next deal to be for more than one year, the tenure of his stays at the Sharks and Dragons.
The Knights have signed Darius Boyd (Dragons), Kade Snowden (Sharks) and Timana Tahu (Panthers) for next season and are confident of bringing former captain Danny Buderus back from Leeds Rhinos for one last season in Newcastle under Bennett.
Back-rower Marvin Filipo has re-signed for another year on a second-tier contract and Gidley said the acquisition of Dragons centre or back-rower Alex McKinnon (three years) and Storm prop Robbie Rochow (one) underlined their intent to bring back Hunter products.
McKinnon, 19, is an Aberdeen Tigers junior who made his NRL debut this season. He played in the Dragons' games against the Titans, Broncos and Knights and was listed to play at lock in their NYC team against the Storm in Melbourne last night.
Rochow, who turns 21 on Monday, is an East Maitland Griffins junior and former Kurri Kurri first-grader who made his debut for the Storm against the Roosters in June last year and was a bench player in their 22-18 victory over Parramatta this month.
"They're both local boys coming back home, so that's in line with our philosophy there, and I think they've both done particularly well at their current clubs," Gidley said.
"They're both players who are full of potential and they fit the criteria of the types of players that we want to come back representing our club."
Gidley did not expect progress in talks with Leeds about negotiating a release for Buderus until after the Rhinos play Wigan in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley next Saturday.