CESSNOCK remain confident of having Paul Carter on board next Newcastle Rugby League season despite the troubled former NRL player facing a sentence hearing on cocaine supply on Wednesday after being deregistered by the CRL and having a clearance to the Goannas denied.
Carter pleaded guilty in October to supplying a small quantity of cocaine to former Sydney Roosters teammate and now Knights back Shaun Kenny-Dowall at the Ivy nightclub on May 5.
In June, the Roosters released Carter, who was previously sacked by Gold Coast and South Sydney for code of conduct breaches, and he joined the Coffs Harbour Comets in group 2, playing just two games in July.
Cessnock announced the signing of Carter two weeks ago and followed that with confirmation of the recruitment of former Knights back Chanel Mata’utia last Sunday.
However, CRL operations manager Bert Lowrie said Carter had been deregistered by his board “based on his history” and “will remain that until he makes an application to be registered”.
Lowrie also said Coffs Harbour had denied Cessnock’s request for a clearance.
Cessnock president Darrell Wilkinson said “the clearance is nothing”.
“We will get him cleared,” Wilkinson said.
“Like a lot of players, he just owes a little bit of money and they want that back. It’s not much at all and we will pay that once the Country Rugby League clear him.
“We are still pursuing him hard. He has signed with us and he has the court case on Wednesday and I think everyone is just waiting to see how that goes.
“At the end of the day, the ball is in Paul’s court. For the CRL and ourselves, he’s got to keep his nose clean and if he manages to do that up until we kick off in April, I can’t see the CRL being able to hold him back.
“We’re excited and we would be shattered if Country Rugby League put a hold on this.”
Player-coach Al Lantry was “pretty confident” the Goannas would have Carter, who has been in a Thai rehabilitation facility, for next season.
“Every time Paul and I chat, and we chat pretty regularly, it’s all about Cessnock,” Lantry said.
“We talk about a few things he’s got coming up but it’s all positive and we’re all just trying to focus on football.”
Wilkinson said Carter and Mata’utia were “going to be a positive for this club”.
“With those two and with our juniors coming through, we’ve kept most of our players from last year, we are definitely putting a good side together,” Wilkinson said.
Mata’utia, 25, shocked the Knights when he walked away from the final year of his NRL contract just three days into pre-season.
The decision was believed to have cost the former Australian Schoolboys representative close to $200,000. The outside back played 13 NRL games in four seasons at Newcastle.
Lantry was excited to see what Mata’utia could produce as a centre for Cessnock, who have missed the finals for the past two seasons.
“Sometimes you’re getting blokes coming back from NRL who are 29, 30, 31, but he’s coming back as a young fella and he should bring plenty of spark with him,” Lantry said.
“He’s going to bring a lot to us, just from everyone he’s worked with and played with as well, it’s going to a big reflect on everyone and be a good pick up for all these young fellas too.”
Lantry said club sponsors would help Mata’utia find work in the new year.
“He just said he wanted to get the love for local league that he’s seen getting around and that’s something he really wants to do,” Lantry said.
“He wanted to come to a club with a good culture and family behind it and I think that’s what we’ve got at Cessnock and what I’m trying to build even better there.”
“Seeing Cessnock not make the semis over the past two years has been pretty disappointing for me, so obviously I just want to get them going back in the right direction.”
Lantry said Cessnock were now “pretty well set” in terms of 2018 recruits and just had “two or three to lock down”.