NEWCASTLE’S No.1 recruitment target for next season, Test and Origin enforcer Greg Bird, has turned down his home-town club after receiving an offer almost impossible to refuse from Catalans Dragons.
The 32-year-old has reportedly signed a five-year deal worth more than $500,000 a season, the last two years of which will apparently involve a transition to coaching.
Bird had a year remaining on his contract with Gold Coast but the Titans have released him, perhaps prompted by two recent off-field incidents that were being investigated by the NRL integrity unit.
Knights coach Nathan Brown has repeatedly stated this year that he would be interested in signing Bird, but it is understood Newcastle were reluctant to table a deal of longer than two years.
Bird’s decision to return to Catalans, where he played in 2009, means the Knights will return to the marketplace in a quest for a marquee signing to join new recruits Jamie Buhrer (Manly) and Rory Kostjacyn (North Queensland).
It is understood the Titans were considering sacking Bird. But by asking them for a release, he saved them making that decision.
"No one can doubt the commitment Greg has played with throughout his career whether it be for his club, his state, or his country," Titans CEO Graham Annesley said in a statement.
"He is a fierce competitor and always gives 100, which is why his teammates at all levels love playing alongside him. We wish Greg the very best of luck and success for the remainder of his career."
CADEN HELMERS reports: Coach Brown has confirmed he will be renewing acquaintances with former Canberra and St George Illawarra hooker Simon Woolford, who is joining Newcastle’s coaching staff for 2017.
Brown said a chance meeting with Woolford “five or six weeks ago” laid the foundations for the deal.
Woolford is replacing Matt Lantry as NSW Cup coach and will also be an assistant for Brown, working with the NRL squad. Brown coached Woolford at the Dragons in 2007 and 2008.
"I just got caught talking to him and what he'd been up to and where he'd been," Brown said. "I knew he'd been working with Ricky [Stuart] because I obviously keep in close contact with Ricky and I just quizzed him a little bit and thought he might be somebody that would be a decent option.
“We just had a few conversations and things worked out well."
Brown said the Knights had “re-structured” their coaching staff. As well as Woolford, former South Sydney assistant coach Kurt Wrigley is joining the club.
Newcastle legend Danny Buderus, who was an assistant to Brown last season, is pursuing other options, while Lantry will coach Wests Rosellas in the Newcastle district competition.
"He [Woolford] has been working in an environment that's been through what we're going through in Canberra," Brown said.
"He's been working part-time with Ricky in Canberra in an environment that had to rebuild from the bottom up."
Former Raiders captain Terry Campese will take Woolford’s position as Queanbeyan Blues coach in the Canberra competition.
Campese has spent the past two seasons playing for Hull KR in the English Super League and will fill the void left at his junior club by Woolford.
The Blues were in talks with another coaching candidate before a phone call on Saturday morning alerted club officials ex-Australian five-eighth Campese was coming home.
Already keen on rekindling some sort of relationship, it wasn't long before Campese had agreed to take up the captain-coach role.
Campese is expected to return home towards the end of the year with his kids still in school and Italian honours on the horizon.
The 32-year-old will lead The Azzuri in its upcoming Rugby League World Cup qualifiers against Serbia and Wales having missed rugby league's international showpiece event in 2013.
Quaenbeyan officials say the nephew of Wallabies great David Campese and club junior "ticks all the boxes".