HE was the outstanding prospect Knights officials let slip through their fingers. Now they want to bring Tevita Pangai Junior back to Newcastle.
The power-packed prop, who starred in Brisbane’s comeback win against North Queensland last Friday night, is off contract at the end of this season and has already been identified by Knights coach Nathan Brown and football manager Darren Mooney as a recruitment target.
Pangai, 22, was a South Newcastle junior and Lambton High School student who was named in the Australian under-15 merit team, alongside current Knight Sione Mata’utia.
But hopes that he would become a long-term Newcastle top-liner were torpedoed in 2013 when Canberra swooped to sign him and his two elder brothers, Kilu and Mosese. After two years in Canberra’s lower grades, Tevita signed with the Broncos, for whom he debuted in 2016.
He has since appeared in a further 34 NRL games and represented Tonga at last year’s World Cup.
Brown confirmed Newcastle had contacted Pangai’s agent to express interest in the three-time Junior Kangaroos representative.
“He’s a Newcastle junior, and he’s good mates with Sione and a few of the boys,” Brown said.
“He’s certainly the type of player that we’d like to add to our roster.
“Whether there’s any legs in it or not, I suppose the Broncos would love to keep him, and generally the Roosters are keen on good players, aren’t they?
“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.”
Brown described Pangai as “an outstanding young talent”, who had steadily improved over the past two seasons.
“His game last week was quite exceptional … we’d certainly like someone of that sort of leg speed and power if we can find them,” he said.
“There’s not heaps of them out there available, but he’s one that is available.
“But obviously there will be plenty of clubs interested in him and the Broncos would love to keep him as well.”
Newcastle have three quality young props contracted for the next three seasons in the Saifiti twins, Daniel and Jacob, and Pangai’s former Brisbane teammate Herman Ese’ese.
They have also spent two seasons developing Singleton junior Josh King, who is off contract and has started the year in NSW Cup.
Veteran imports Chris Heighington and Jacob Lillyman joined Newcastle this year on one-season deals.
Ese’ese had no doubt Pangai would be an asset in any team.
“Like you saw on Friday night, what he did against the Cowboys’ forward pack, he’d bring a lot of enthusiasm and a bit of grunt, as well,” Ese’ese said.
“If it’s true, it’s good for the club. But we’re not too worried about that. We’re just going to focus on the job at hand on Sunday night.”
Meanwhile, Brown is hopeful workhorse forwards Jamie Buhrer and Mitchell Barnett will be fit to tackle the Roosters on Sunday.
Buhrer is set to return from an ankle injury, while Barnett suffered a concussion in Sunday’s win against Canberra.