UNWANTED front-rower Antonio Kaufusi appears set to resist the Newcastle Knights’ attempts to offload him to a rival club.
Kaufusi, like fellow forwards Cory Paterson and Mark Taufua, was called in by Knights officials last month and told it would be in his interests to start looking for a fresh start elsewhere, despite being contracted to Newcastle next season.
The trio were informed they were not in incoming coach Wayne Bennett’s plans and should start seeking alternative employment.
Paterson has since signed with North Queensland and arrived in Townsville yesterday to start a 2-year deal.
Taufua has agreed to join Cronulla for the next two seasons.
But Kaufusi is apparently content to stay put.
The Newcastle Herald understands that Kaufusi’s management company have told the Knights their client’s young family is settled in Newcastle, he has a daughter in primary school, and he intends to honour his contract next season.
‘‘Antonio is very happy at the Knights with no plans to move on,’’ a source close to Kaufusi said yesterday.
Knights strategic development manager Keith Onslow said Kaufusi had not shared such sentiments with him.
‘‘The position is still the same,’’ Onslow said.
‘‘We’ve advised Antonio that we won’t be retaining him past 2012 and we’ll continue to work with him and his manager to help secure his future.’’
Kaufusi’s reluctance to relocate should be no great surprise.
This time last year he went through similar upheaval when North Queensland decided he was surplus to requirements.
Despite having 18 months to run on the contract, the former Melbourne Storm heavyweight was dumped to the Cowboys’ Queensland Cup feeder team, Mackay Cutters, after falling out of favour with North Queensland coach Neil Henry.
Searching for a prop after the much-publicised departure of Danny Wicks, the Knights stepped in to offer a lifeline, signing Kaufusi for the second half of last season and two more years.
But the deal was heavily subsidised by the Cowboys, who paid out the bulk of Kaufusi’s contract last year and continued to contribute towards his salary this season.
Since moving to Newcastle, the Tongan-born giant has been unable to recapture the form that earned him a Kangaroos jersey in 2006 and a Queensland Origin appearance in 2007.
In nine games last season and the first 10 games of this campaign, he was defensively sound but did not once register 100 attacking metres.
That prompted Knights coach Rick Stone to drop him for Newcastle’s round-12 win against Parramatta.
A knee injury to Taufua provided Kaufusi with a recall for Monday night’s 17-16 loss to Wests Tigers, and he responded with his best performance since joining the Knights.
Entering the match just before half-time, Kaufusi played 40 minutes, scored a bulldozing try and carried the ball 128 metres. He also made 16 tackles for good measure.
Asked after the match about Kaufusi’s effort, Stone replied: ‘‘He played strongly.
‘‘He carried the ball with some purpose.
‘‘He definitely made an impression when he carried it, scored a good try, and generally was pretty dangerous.
‘‘I was happy for Antonio, the way he went. He got left out in a tight one last week but got a game this week and took the most of his chance.’’
If Kaufusi was able to play at that level consistently, there is little doubt a host of clubs would be interested in acquiring his services.