After seemingly playing the perfect waiting game, the Newcastle Knights are tantalisingly close to finalising their 2019 NRL squad.
Only the stubborn Bulldogs and Jarryd Hayne’s alleged off-field dramas are potentially standing in the way.
The Knights have just three spots left to fill in their 30-man roster following the signing last week of Warriors prop James Gavet and South Sydney outside back Hymel Hunt.
Kangaroos prop David Klemmer will be number 28 when he is released by the Bulldogs, possibly next week while St George Illawarra utility Kurt Mann is set to be number 29 when the Dragons give him the green light to go.
Klemmer’s release is being held up by the fact the Dogs want to announce a replacement signing [Roosters’ Dylan Napa] at the same time.
Likewise, Mann’s request for a release to play hooker for the Knights on a longer term contract has been delayed by the Dragons’ negotiations with Hayne, which are likely to be now clouded by his latest off-field issues.
Ironically, Parramatta wanted the Knights to take centre Michael Jennings off their hands so they could re-sign Hayne but baulked at paying a large chunk of Jennings’ $800,000 salary.
That ship appears to have now sailed with coach Nathan Brown opting to go back to the cheaper but more versatile Hunt, who has only been signed for one year.
Confirmation of Klemmer and Mann will leave one spot open which the Knights may strategically sit on to until the right player becomes available.
Mitchell Pearce might be turning 30 next year and closing in on veteran status but that doesn’t stop him setting a great example for younger team-mates when it comes to training standards.
Not even spending part of his off-season break on holidays in Bali with Todd Carney managed to slow the Knights playmaker down when he started pre-season training with the club this week.
For the second straight year, Pearce showed up his teammates by recording the fastest time for the club’s compulsory time-trial.
Fitz to the fore
Don’t be surprised when the Knights unveil their leadership group for 2019 if newly re-signed backrower Lachlan Fitzgibbon is on the list.
Fitzgibbon’s leadership qualities emerged last season both on and off the field and we are hearing he was one of the more vocal contributors when the playing group and coaching staff gathered for an over-night bonding and goal-setting camp at Caves Beach last weekend.
Leadership and management consultant Ray McLean, a favourite of coach Nathan Brown, worked with the players during the camp.
Hot lap boys
We’re tipping Greta McDonalds will be pumping out more Big Macs than usual between 11 am and midday today with Knights stars Kalyn Ponga and Connor Watson behind the counter serving customers on McHappy Day.
But while flipping a few burgers and interacting with fans will be a piece of cake for the two Knights pin-up boys, next Friday may be a different story when the V8’s are in town and the pair are taken on a hot lap around the tight Newcastle East circuit in the build up to next weekend’s big race.
New Knights recruit Zac Woolford has a great relationship with his dad Simon and speaks to him every day in England where he is coaching Huddersfield.
But Woolford senior, who once put a fist through a coaches box window, is also renowned for tearing the paint off dressingroom walls and Zac knows plenty about his cranky streak.
“Try him being your coach when you’re his son,”Woolford told us.
“The car rides home, we nearly had to get out on the side of the road at times and settle things.”
A real pro
Queensland Origin recruit Tim Glasby still has a bit over a week to go before he officially joins pre-season training at the Knights for the first time but has already been spotted several times in the gym at the club’s Mayfield headquarters.
Real NRL in NSW Cup talks
What price a Newcastle Rebels domestic representative side playing in the NSW Cup competition as the feeder team to the Newcastle Knights in 2020?
Preliminary talks to that effect have already taken place between local officials and the NSWRL along with representatives from the Knights.
It is very early days but the Real NRL has been given the green light to at least take the conversation further and explore all their options including whether it would be financially viable.
The funding for a NSW Cup side costs anywhere between $500,000 to more than $1 million a season depending on which club you are talking about so the Real NRL is going to need plenty of financial help if it is to get the idea off the ground.
Barney’s big day
A host of Knights teammates and coach Nathan Brown made the trip to Harrington on the mid north coast for the wedding of Mitch Barnett and Clare Crossingham a fortnight ago.
Daniel Saifiti and Lachlan Fitzgibbon were among the wedding party with the couple honeymooning in Vanuatu last week.
From all reports, Barnett arrived back for pre-season training on Monday in great shape.
It’s been 21 years since Darren Albert scored THAT try and obviously, some of his freakish speed will have been lost since the Knights remarkable 1997 grandfinal triumph over Manly.
But the former Scone Thoroughbred will still be a sight to see if he gets into the clear today when he runs out for the Knights in the Legends of League charity tournament at Central Coast Stadium in Gosford.
Many of the game’s former greats will be on show with the Knights, led by Danny Buderus, hoping to go one better than last year when they fell 10-6 to the Bulldogs in the inaugural final.
Albert is featuring for the first time along with Steve Crowe, who had that largely unmemorable stink during the ‘97 decider with Cliff Lyons.
Fittingly, the Knights will kick off their campaign against the Sea Eagles at 2 pm but we are not sure about the likelihood of a Crowe-Lyons re-match.