THE Knights will have to wait until after Christmas to take their first tangible step towards keeping Australian winger Sione Mata’utia and his brothers in Newcastle from 2016 onwards.
Eighteen-year-old Sione and older brothers Chanel and Pat are contracted to the Knights until the end of 2015, but they have signed letters of intent to join 2014 NRL runners-up Canterbury on four-year deals starting in 2016.
The Knights have until June 30 to match or better those terms because the Bulldogs are not allowed to register contracts with the NRL until after that date.
The Newcastle Herald reported on October 14 that the brothers had begun legal proceedings to sever ties with their manager, Chris Haddad, and that process has prevented the Knights from starting contract negotiations in earnest.
Haddad responded by seeking legal advice, telling the Herald on October 15: ‘‘I’ve always acted in the best interests of the boys.’’
The Herald has been told the brothers and their legal representatives were due to meet Haddad and Paul Massey, the head of the NRL’s accredited player agent scheme, on Wednesday and Thursday as part of a formal process to seek a resolution.
If the brothers are successful in parting company with Haddad, they are reportedly keen to link with Warrick Wright’s Black Money management company. Wright’s clients include Knights halfback Tyrone Roberts, who was formerly managed by Haddad, and former Knights dual international Timana Tahu.
‘‘Whether it’s Chris Haddad or whoever the new manager is, the Knights want to sit down with the boys as soon as possible to put a deal in front of them, and that can’t happen until they sort all this out,’’ a source with knowledge of the negotiations told the Herald.
‘‘The boys want to get it sorted sooner rather than later as well, because it’s put a bit of stress on them through all of this, but that doesn’t look like happening now until after Christmas.
‘‘Whatever happens there, the Knights will still have to come up with an offer that’s commercially attractive to the boys, so that’s where things are at at the moment.’’
The Knights, who will close their offices on Friday and reopen on January 5, hope to be in a position to table their counter-offers towards the middle or end of next month.
‘‘The club will do everything in its power to keep the three Mata’utia brothers in Newcastle, but there is a process in place and we are waiting for them to clarify issues around their management,’’ Knights chief executive Matt Gidley said.
‘‘Once that situation is resolved we will be in a position to take our negotiations with them to the next step.’’
Haddad could not be contacted on Thursday for comment.
An NRL spokesman indicated Massey would not discuss individual cases.
A Knights spokeswoman declined a Herald request to speak to Sione on Thursday.
Sione has said several times in the past two months that his and his brothers’ preference was to stay in Newcastle and continue their careers with the Knights, but their decision would be based on what was best for their family.
Aged 18 years and 130 days, Sione became Australia’s youngest Test player when he made his debut in the Four Nations against England at AAMI Park on November 2.
He played in three matches in the series and scored his first Test try in Australia’s 22-18 loss to New Zealand in the final at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on November 15.
After a break at the end of the Four Nations, Sione returned to training last week and will join his Knights teammates in a pre-season camp at Port Stephens on Friday.