TEVITA Pangai Jnr appears a genuine chance of returning to Newcastle after the explosive Brisbane forward met with Knights officials earlier this week for contract negotiations.
Pangai Jnr flew into Newcastle on Thursday to talk with Knights coach Nathan Brown and staff and was given a tour of the club’s training facilities.
The 21-year-old, who debuted with the Broncos in 2016 and has appeared in 52 NRL games, is off contract and was widely expected to re-sign with Brisbane at the end of this season.
But it appears uncertainty about the future of coach Wayne Bennett has prompted the 1.90-metre, 113-kilogram prime mover to explore his options.
Brown has made it clear that his top recruitment priority for next season is a “power forward” capable of putting the Knights on the front foot in attack.
In March, when rival clubs started circling Pangai Jnr, Brown labelled the Tongan international and “an outstanding young talent”, and added: “There are going to be plenty of clubs interested in him, but he’s certainly a player we'd like to have a conversation with.”
It initially appeared the feeling was not mutual, but as one source told the Herald on Friday: “He wouldn’t have come down here if he wasn’t interested. The Broncos are probably still the favourites but hopefully we’re in with a chance.”
Other clubs, including the Roosters, are also understood to be interested.
But the Knights hope the fact that Pangai Jnr grew up in Newcastle, before signing with Canberra as a 17-year-old, will enhance their bid.
He attended Lambton High School and played his junior football with South Newcastle, starring in under-age and schoolboy representative teams alongside incumbent Knights Sione Mata’utia and Luke Yates, as well as Cronulla centre Jesse Ramien, who has signed to join Newcastle next season.
The Knights have already recruited Melbourne and Queensland prop Tim Glasby for next season but will need at least one more middle forward after the retirement of veterans Chris Heighington and Jacob Lillyman.
“I think the Knights are holding tight, but I’ll be surprised if they don’t sign a few more middles,” Heighington said.
The 36-year-old added that Newcastle should be looking for “a couple” of forwards offering “a bit of power, a bit of leg speed.”
Pangai Jnr would appear to fit that job description perfectly.