THE Knights are back in front in the race to sign promising prop forward Korbin Sims.
The North Queensland Cowboys head the list of rival NRL clubs keen to lure the Nowra-born Queensland State of Origin prospect away from Newcastle so he can be reunited with older brothers Ashton and Tariq.
But the Herald has been told Knights officials spoke yesterday to Sims’s manager, Col Davis, and made progress in negotiations for an upgraded new two-year deal.
The off-contract 21-year-old, who has played six NRL games this year, including his debut against the Cowboys at Hunter Stadium on March 25, has been named on the bench for Newcastle’s game against New Zealand Warriors at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday.
‘‘There’s still a few things to work through, but it’s looking positive,’’ a source with knowledge of the negotiations told the Herald.
The Knights have also kicked off talks with Sims’s Junior Kangaroos teammate Alex McKinnon, who said yesterday that it was a ‘‘matter of time’’ before he signed a new deal.
The 21-year-old Aberdeen Tigers junior is contracted until the end of next year, but he and the Knights are keen to extend his tenure until at least 2016.
‘‘I’ve got two more years at the club, but I can’t see myself going anywhere else, to tell you the truth, so it will only be a matter of time before something is announced,’’ said McKinnon, who has played 34 straight NRL games since joining from the Dragons last year.
The Knights yesterday announced the retention of Dane Gagai until the end of 2015, Robbie Rochow until the end of 2016, and 32-year-old utility forward David Fa’alogo until the end of next year.
McKinnon and Rochow have started together in the second row for the past four games and are keeping experienced forwards like Chris Houston, Neville Costigan and Matt Hilder on the bench or in NSW Cup.
‘‘I know I’m pretty happy being in the starting team,’’ McKinnon said. ‘‘If I’m off the bench, I probably don’t get into the game straight away.
‘‘You see some players, Korbin does it well, and Adam Cuthbertson does it well, too.’’
McKinnon said the Knights had to play with the same intensity and control against the Warriors that they produced in their 44-8 victory over the Bulldogs on Sunday.
‘‘We were all pretty happy with how we played on the weekend, but if we don’t play good this weekend, it means nothing,’’ he said.
‘‘They’ve got a very good pack, good halves – overall, they’re a pretty good team when they want to be – so we’ve just got to make sure we play our best, so they can’t.
‘‘They’re a lot like us, to tell you the truth. They’ve had a lot of good games and a lot of bad games, but we’ve just got to worry about ourselves. If we get our backyard right, hopefully we can get the win.’’
Meanwhile, Beau Scott (groin) and Anthony Quinn (eyes) are on track to return from long injury lay-offs against the Titans at Hunter Stadium on June 30.
Scott, who had surgery after aggravating a chronic groin condition against the Cowboys on March 25, is considering coming back against the Storm in Melbourne on June 16 but the Knights have a bye the following week, so he is likely to wait until the game against the Titans.
Quinn had surgery on both eyes last month to reattach detached retinas.
Veteran hooker Danny Buderus began running last week after a second operation on a bulging disc in his lower back.