PRELIMINARY finalists Penrith have emerged as jailed prop Russell Packer’s likely new NRL home, nipping in the bud public outcry in Newcastle about a possible return to the Knights.
The Knights sacked Packer in January, a week after he pleaded guilty to a ‘‘cowardly and deplorable’’ assault in which he bashed a stranger during an alcohol-fuelled night out in Sydney and stomped on his victim’s face, leaving the 22-year-old man with a fractured eye socket.
Packer was sentenced to a two-year non-parole period but that was reduced to 12months on appeal and he is due for release next January.
The Newcastle Herald reported yesterday that new Knights coach Rick Stone had discussed the prospect of giving the 24-year-old former New Zealand Warriors and Kiwi Test forward a second chance in Newcastle.
Knights chief executive Matt Gidley was reluctant to discuss the issue yesterday but said the club was still in the market to sign a front-rower to add to a crop of props that already includes Kade Snowden, Korbin Sims, Cowboys recruit Tariq Sims, David Fa’alogo, Chris Houston, and NSW Cup grand final bookends Pat Vaivai and Sam Mataora.
Vaivai and Mataora, who will lead the Knights against Penrith in the NSW Cup grand final at Allianz Stadium on Sunday, have agreed to terms on new two-year deals.
Packer still faces the possibility of being deported after his release from jail. Even if he is allowed to stay in Australia, there is no guarantee the NRL would agree to register a new contract.
An NRL spokesman said Packer was not currently registered with the NRL, adding: ‘‘If a contract is lodged with the NRL it will be considered on its merits.’’
Former Knights coach Wayne Bennett, who started work back in Brisbane yesterday, has also expressed interest in recruiting the 110-game veteran to the Broncos but the Herald has been told he will be reunited with former Warriors coach Ivan Cleary at the Panthers, pending the NRL’s approval.
The presence of Cleary and former Warriors teammates Lewis Brown, Elijah Taylor and Isaac John has given the Panthers the inside running for Packer’s services.
The Herald has been told the Knights were inundated yesterday with phone calls and social media correspondence questioning the club even considering offering Packer another opportunity.
There was a similar response on the Herald website as readers expressed outrage.
‘‘why would you sign this bloke & then leave a guy like Willee [sic] Mason out ?,’’ David Anderson wrote.
‘‘What sort of example are the knights showing with consideration of this person for the team?,’’ troutonfly wrote.
‘‘Cmon Stoney, you can’t be serious about signing this bloke,’’ Fair Dinkum wrote.
‘‘I know you’re a decent fella Rick. I would’ve thought you’d want to surround yourself with decent blokes to try and create a good culture.
‘‘Regardless of the bloke’s ability and previous problems in life, his actions were utterly inexcusable. Imagine if it was your son he belted?’’
Packer received some support from Herald website readers, including Pinochio, who wrote: ‘‘Done the crime, Did the time, Is there no forgiveness, Or a second chance, Imagine how he’d sway young heads To STAY AWAY from there.’’
The Knights had signed Packer to a four-year deal, reportedly worth $400,000 a season, but terminated that contract before he even played a game.
Packer has been incarcerated at Lithgow Correctional Centre, a maximum security prison west of Sydney, and Stone said Knights officials spoke to him last week to discuss his future.
‘‘There’s a bit of a process to go through with Russell. He’s got to make up his mind where he’d like to play and probably then he’s got to get registered by the NRL,’’ Stone said after coaching Newcastle’s NSW Cup team to a 34-10 victory over Illawarra in a preliminary final at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday.
‘‘But we’re one of the clubs who have expressed some interest. Whether he decides to come and play for the Knights, only time will tell.’’
Stone said the Knights had continued to help support Packer’s wife, Lara, and their two young children who have remained in Newcastle during his confinement.