Knights sign versatile Ben Rogers

THE confidence to back himself, even though that sometimes meant making mistakes, is what Newcastle coach Brian Smith likes most about journeyman utility Ben Rogers.

Having lost five-eighth Chris Bailey to Manly and withdrawing an offer to troubled former Bulldogs half Arana Taumata, the Knights have signed 23-year-old Rogers to a two-year deal.

A graduate of Penrith's strong junior program, the enigmatic playmaker played two NRL seasons with the Panthers in 2004 and 2005, joined Souths in 2006, then was released by the Rabbitohs in June and joined the Dragons.

Rogers came off the bench in his first appearance for the Dragons in their 24-20 victory over Brisbane last Friday and mixed some quality touches with a kick out on the full.

"He made a couple of blues but he's hardly played for six months," Smith said.

"The only guys we're probably likely to be adding are those utility-type players to keep improving that versatility in our club. Benny Rogers is a five-eighth, lock, maybe halfback, a good ball-player and he has an excellent kicking game.

"I think Newcastle people will take to him. He's got a lot of confidence, he backs himself with the ball in hand, and he's got a really good close-to-the-goal-line kicking game.

"He's a footy player rather than an athlete.

"Browny [Dragons coach Nathan Brown] said he's been very impressed with his attitude at the Dragons. He's fit in well with the boys there, he's been training hard, and I wasn't surprised when he put him in the other night and they won the game."

The Dragons had been in talks with Knights halfback Luke Walsh, who is contracted to Newcastle until the end of 2009.

But that transfer is unlikely to occur because it is understood the Dragons have lured their former playmaker, Mathew Head, back from Wests Tigers.

Meanwhile, Knights second-rower Steve Simpson has been cleared of a serious neck injury and remains a good chance of playing against North Queensland at EnergyAustralia Stadium on Saturday.

Simpson had pins and needles in his right arm and hand after his head and neck were compressed awkwardly in a tackle midway through Newcastle's 38-18 loss to the Raiders at Canberra Stadium on Sunday.

Knights medical officer Neil Halpin said an MRI scan yesterday indicated that Simpson had probably stretched a nerve root in his neck and would be assessed on Friday.

Apart from the likelihood of Simpson playing, Smith has several selection options in the backline for the must-win game against the Cowboys.

Adam MacDougall is due back after serving a one-game ban, fellow centre Wes Naiqama is ready to return from a broken foot and the flu, and Bailey expects to be cleared today after missing four matches with an infected finger.

Fullback Kurt Gidley said the Knights had to rediscover their defensive tenacity, and quickly, to stay in the finals race. Newcastle conceded seven tries and missed 25 tackles against Canberra.

"We've got to have a look at ourselves, first and foremost," Gidley said.

"We were too soft in defence not even some of the tries, just some of our contact in defence and some of the clean misses.

"If you're playing first grade you just can't afford that sort of thing."

[PI9016] South Sydney officials are pleading for the support of their members as they continue their search for the person behind the socket-throwing incident at Sunday's match against Manly.

The hunt is still on for a patron sitting within the Rabbitohs' members area who allegedly threw a small metal socket at Manly centre Steve Matai as he made his way from the field after being sent to the sin bin just before halftime. The socket the size of a five-cent coin narrowly missed a Sea Eagles trainer who was accompanying Matai up the tunnel.

Eels bag Tigers, Page 77