NEWCASTLE Knights officials have played down speculation they are close to signing NSW Origin forward Luke O'Donnell but admit they are well advanced in negotiations with his younger brother, Kyle.
Kyle is a 19-year-old second-rower who has been playing in Cronulla's under 20s this season, and Knights coach Rick Stone has identified him as a potential first-grader.
Luke is off contract at North Queensland, who recently offered him a new deal but were told that he intended to explore other options.
The Knights confirmed they had spoken to O'Donnell's manager, Wayne Beavis, but were coy about their chances of adding the suspension-plagued enforcer to their roster for next season.
"That's just a rumour," Stone said.
"He's off contract, he's the sort of tough player the club could probably do with at the moment, but I haven't spoken to him personally."
Asked whether O'Donnell's horrendous judiciary record was a factor Newcastle would need to consider, Stone replied, "Yeah, it probably is. If you're going to pay big bucks, injuries and judiciary are obviously a couple of key areas you're looking at."
No player in the NRL has served more suspension time than O'Donnell, who copped a three-week ban for a spear tackle on Queensland's Darius Boyd on Wednesday night.
The 29-year-old's combined suspensions since his NRL debut in 1999 now tally 29 weeks - more than a full season.
Cowboys chief executive Peter Parr said yesterday his club was hoping for "clarity" on O'Donnell's future by next week.
"We've made him an offer and I'm continuing to try to work through the process with his manager, Wayne Beavis," Parr said.
"We're very mindful of the fact that other clubs are interested in him. But we've had that since he arrived here in 2004, and he's still with us.
Stone said Kyle O'Donnell was a definite recruitment target for next season.
"We have spoken to him and I have met him personally," Stone said.
"He's a young bloke we've identified as someone of the future . . . I've had a look at some of his footage from this year and been impressed with him for sure."
Asked if Newcastle would try to sign the O'Donnells as a package deal, Stone said, "I don't know. Maybe if the young fella comes across Luke might be a bit more interested."
The Knights are desperate to recruit at least one high-profile player for next season and O'Donnell, despite his dubious discipline, would offer a much-needed injection of passion and aggressive intent.
Newcastle have been linked to a host of big names, including Johnathan Thurston, Brett Finch, Willie Mason, Sonny Bill Williams, Mark Gasnier, Feleti Mateo and Trevor Thurling, but are yet to make a notable signing.
Canberra announced yesterday that Thurling had re-signed for three years.