DANE Gagai says leaving the Knights was “one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make in my life”.
Unfortunately for a host of his Newcastle teammates, they appear unlikely to have any say in whether or not they follow him out the back door.
The Newcastle Herald understands Knights coach Nathan Brown hopes to kick off season 2018 with a revamped roster featuring between 10 and 12 new players.
To accommodate them, a similar number of incumbents are set to be cleaned out, and it is understood Brown has already told some players to start exploring other options because they are unlikely to be retained.
Newcastle’s long list of off-contract players includes NRL regulars Peter Mata’utia, Brendan Elliot, Luke Yates, Josh Starling, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, and Tyler Randell, veterans Mickey Paea and Anthony Tupou, and fringe first-graders Jaelen Feeney, Jack Stockwell, Jacob Gagan, Sam Mataora, Pauli Pauli, Will Pearsall and David Bhana.
It appears only a few of them are likely to be offered new deals.
In addition, luckless hooker Rory Kostjasyn is expected to soon announce an injury-enforced retirement, and there is mounting speculation that English import Joe Wardle is pondering a return to Super League after one one season in the NRL.
Newcastle’s signing spree for next season has already secured Kalyn Ponga (North Queensland) and Roosters duo Aidan Guerra and Shaun Kenny-Dowall, the latter having arrived before the June 30 mid-season transfer deadline.
The Knights are also poised to announce the signing of Brisbane pair Herman Ese’ese and Tautau Moga and Roosters utility Connor Watson.
Newcastle’s priority will be to sign at least another experienced front-rower, and Manly’s Brenton Lawrence has been approached.
Penrith battering ram Leilani Latu is also rumoured to be a target, although he is under contract to the Panthers.
The Knights also remain hopeful they can tempt NSW Origin pivot James Maloney to seek a release from Cronulla.
Explaining his reasons for signing a four-year deal with South Sydney, Gagai said it was “one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make in my life” and there “was a lot I had to take into consideration”.
He was confident the Knights were “definitely going in the right direction” under coach Nathan Brown, despite the likelihood of collecting a third straight wooden spoon.
“I think Browny is doing the right things and has the right people in place to take this club to where it needs to be,’’ he said.
Gagai said he had “personal” reasons for accepting the Souths deal but he was determined to give Newcastle his utmost until season’s end.
“It’s a decision I guess I had to think a lot about, but that decision’s made now, and that’s done,’’ he said.
“Me going there isn’t until 2018, so all my focus now is here ... I just want to finish here on a positive and get a few wins.’’
Named on Sunday in the inaugural Origin Kangaroos merit team, the Queensland flyer shapes as a genuine candidate for the end-of-season World Cup.
“Definitely I’d love to play for Australia,’’ he said.
“I’m sure every player wants to play at that level of footy. But it all starts with club footy.”
Meanwhile, Kenny-Dowall is in contention to debut against his former club on Friday night, especially if Peter Mata’utia (concussion) is ruled out.