THE Knights are in danger of losing promising five-eighth Brock Lamb before the start of next season if they are successful in signing Mitchell Pearce.
The Newcastle Herald understands that Manly, who are also in the market for Pearce, are eyeing Lamb as a contingency if they strike out in their bid to recruit the former Roosters playmaker.
The race to sign Pearce is now a three-horse race – between Newcastle, Manly and Cronulla – after Melbourne officials said on Monday they had pulled out.
Manly have been widely touted as the favourites, but reports that Pearce’s manager, Steve Gillis, is travelling to Newcastle later this week to meet with Wests Group/Knights chief executive Phil Gardner would suggest that the 28-year-old is still considering the option of leaving Sydney.
Pearce visited Newcastle on his own last week to meet with Knights coach Nathan Brown.
If he was to join the Knights, he would renew acquaintances with former Roosters teammates Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Aidan Guerra and Connor Watson, the latter of whom has been guaranteed first shot at playing five-eighth next season.
Lamb was expected to partner him in the halves, after a breakout 2017 campaign in which he made 21 appearances and was a nominee for the Dally M rookie-of-the-year award, won by Canberra’s Nick Cotric.
But if the Pearce-Watson pairing was reunited, Lamb would in all likelihood be facing the prospect of playing NSW Cup or possibly being used as an interchange utility in first grade.
Manly need a replacement five-eighth after releasing experienced Blake Green to join the Warriors.
Lamb is contracted to the Knights until the end of 2018 and the Maitland-born 20-year-old is regarded as a long-term first-grader.
Newcastle officials have regularly stated the importance of retaining their best local juniors, but in this case they may consider releasing the 2014 Australian Schoolboys star if his pathway to first grade was blocked.
Brown has granted a number of other Newcastle players early releases over the past two seasons when they attracted interest from rival clubs, including Joseph Tapine (Canberra), Tariq Sims (St George Illawarra), Korbin Sims (Brisbane) and Joe Wardle (Castleford).
After debuting in 2016 as a 19-year-old, Lamb played only three games in that season before suffering an ankle injury that required surgery.
He became a mainstay last season, scoring five tries, kicking 23 goals and a field goal and producing a team-high 10 try assists. In four of Newcastle’s five wins this year, against Canberra, the Dragons, Warriors and Parramatta, he scored tries.
Asked recently about the prospect of Newcastle signing Pearce, Lamb produced a diplomatic response.
“He’s a quality player, he’s played Origin, he’s won a premiership,” he told the Newcastle Herald. “His experience would be second to none, but I’m not sure what's going to happen there, so we’ll just go with the flow.”
Meanwhile, Cessnock have confirmed the signing of Chanel Mata’utia, who sought a release from the final year of his contract with the Knights.