RESILIENT forward Cameron Ciraldo has given the Newcastle Knights a boost on the eve of tomorrow's opening play-off against the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium by agreeing to a new two-year contract.
And Ciraldo insisted yesterday that if Zeb Taia was ruled out today with a shoulder injury, he would be fit to play his first game since suffering a horrific broken ankle against the Sharks in March.
The towering 24-year-old admitted it was a relief to reach terms with the club after several months of negotiations.
At one point, he feared he would have to leave Newcastle and return to Sydney because the club had asked him to take a significant pay cut and accept an incentive-based deal.
"It's good to get it out of the way and I can concentrate on other things," Ciraldo said.
"My wife and kids are all happy to be staying. We all feel settled and have made a lot of friends.
"It's a really strong club, and you only have to look at the Old Boys Day last weekend to realise it's pretty tight-knit here.
"They used to call the Bulldogs the family club, but I think the Knights are very much like that as well."
Ciraldo, who joined Newcastle in 2008 from the Sharks, said he had received "a couple" of expressions of interest from rival clubs but never wanted to leave.
His retention comes just days after the Knights signed Kiwi Test prop Evarn Tuimavave from the Warriors and enticed rookie prop Sione Tovo to re-sign for 2010.
Ciraldo has been back in full training several weeks and warmed up before Newcastle's clash with Penrith as a standby player.
He said he was ready to play in the finals if required.
"This year's not over yet," he said. "The club knows I've been ready to play for a month now."
Having struggled at times last year, appearing in only 14 NRL games, Ciraldo looked set to make an impact this season before he was injured in round two.
He was confident he would be able to make up for lost time next year.
"There's no reason I can't have another good pre-season like I did this year, and play well in the trials," he said.
"Hopefully we've got a good team and I'll be part of it."
Meanwhile, departing Knights under-20s coach Rohan Smith has been appointed coach of the Tongan national team.
Smith's first assignment is a daunting one, coaching Tonga in an international against New Zealand, followed by the Pacific Cup against Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and the Cook Islands.
The winners of the Pacific Cup qualify for the Four Nations tournament next year alongside Australia, New Zealand and England.
"It's an honour and a privilege to be considered for this sort of role," Smith said.
"I'm really enthusiastic and looking forward to it."
Smith said he was still unsure which club he would be joining when he parts company with Newcastle at season's end.
He has been linked to Parramatta but is also understood to have options in the English Super League.
Smith steered Newcastle to 10th on this year's National Youth Competition ladder after nine wins, 14 losses and a draw.