LUKE Yates will be playing for keeps after winning a recall to Newcastle’s NRL squad for Saturday’s showdown with Penrith at Panthers Stadium.
The nuggety back-rower, who grew up barely a decent torpedo kick from McDonald Jones Stadium and spent his childhood dreaming of playing for his home-town team, is off contract and yet to start negotiations with Knights management about next season and beyond.
After making 19 top-grade appearances in his 2017 debut campaign, Yates has been something of a forgotten man this year, playing in only four games.
Sport: The Newcastle Knights
But he now has potentially three chances against top-flight opposition – Penrith, Cronulla and St George Illawarra – to state his case for retention.
Yates’s manager, Steve Gillis, said he doubted the 23-year-old had anything to prove to Knights coach Nathan Brown.
“I think they know what he can do,” Gillis said.
“I guess it’s all mathematics from here – whether the cap fits and all that sort of stuff. But he’s never let them down, he’s extremely popular, he loves playing for the Knights, and he’d like to stay.
“You’d hope he’s the sort of bloke they want to keep at the club.”
Yates hasn’t featured in Newcastle’s top squad since the 28-10 loss to Melbourne in round 15 but has been consistently impressive in NSW Cup.
His opportunities have been limited because Newcastle’s first-choice back-rowers – Aidan Guerra, Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Mitchell Barnett – have featured in 21, 19 and 19 games respectively, often playing the full 80 minutes.
Yates and prop Josh King were reinstated on Friday to Newcastle’s squad, replacing veteran Chris Heighington and JJ Felise.
The Knights are desperate to bounce back from three successive losses, but face a daunting task against Penrith, who have won the past five clashes between the two teams.
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