THE Newcastle Knights are favoured to sign Melbourne prop Tim Glasby after missing out on another high-profile target, Gold Coast enforcer Jarrod Wallace.
Wallace visited Newcastle last week for contract talks with Knights coach Nathan Brown and football manager Darren Mooney, but on Tuesday the Titans announced the Queensland Origin representative had agreed to a four-year extension worth a reported $2.5 million.
The news came as a welcome boost for Gold Coast before their clash with the Knights at CBus Super Stadium on Saturday.
Glasby flew to Newcastle with his family a month ago for negotiations and, after reports over the weekend that Canberra had withdrawn from the race, there was speculation that the 29-year-old has agreed to join the Knights next season.
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The other big-name prop on the market is Canberra heavyweight Shannon Boyd, who has attracted interest from both the Titans and Knights.
Newcastle signed two veterans, Chris Heighington (Cronulla) and Jacob Lillyman (Warriors), at the end of last season to bolster their engine-room rotation.
But at 36 and 34 respectively, both are in the twilight of their careers and there is no guarantee either will be retained beyond the end of this year.
The need for Newcastle to sign a pack leader, or two, has been highlighted by back-to-back losses to South Sydney and Penrith, both of whom outmuscled the Knights in the battle up front.
Those defeats have left the Knights with a five-and-five record after 10 games, two points adrift of the top eight.
In contrast with the corresponding stage of the past two seasons, they are still in play-off contention but can scarcely afford to slip too far off the pace.
“This year our aim is the [top] eight, as it starts out every year,” second-rower Mitch Barnett said. “Obviously the last couple of years we haven’t started that way.
“We’ve put ourselves in a position to play well and keep in touch with the eight, and I’m sure if we go out there and play our game we can do do a job, and somewhere around the end of the season, we’ll be looking around the eight.”
Barnett admitted, however, the Knights are “still leaking too many points”.
Only the Titans (267) have conceded more points this season than Newcastle (261).
Newcastle’s 26.1 points-per-game average is only a marginal improvement on last year, when they conceded 648 points over the course of the season, at 27 points per game.
Barnett said the Knights’ defence was “a long way” better in last week’s 29-18 loss to Penrith than it had been in their previous 36-18 defeat by South Sydney.
“Our contact and wrestle was a lot better,” he said.
“There were just a couple of individuals reads in defence that hurt us … there were three tries we could have easily stopped, and if we do that and take a couple of the opportunities we created, it’s probably a different game.”
Heighington said Newcastle could reduce their defensive laspes with better ball control and minimising penalties.
“Most games across the NRL this year, the best defensive team has won the game,” Heighington said.
“Our attack’s all right. We’re still not getting enough of the ball. I think the last two weeks, we’re under 50 per cent possession.
“We’re working really hard at training all week to get our defence right. If you get that right, you usually win the game.”
Barnett said the Knights could not afford to underestimate the injury-hit Gold Coast, who have lost five consecutive games and are now $3 favourites in the TAB’s “most losses” betting market.
“From what I’ve seen of them, they try really hard,” Barnett said.
“I think they were out of [interchange] reserves [against Melbourne] on the weekend, and the scoreboard has blown out at the end, but they were right in it.”