SEASONED first-graders Jamie Buhrer and Ken Sio head the list of off-contract Knights as Newcastle officials sift through their list of retention targets for next season.
Buhrer and Sio have been with Newcastle for the past two seasons, playing in 36 and 41 games respectively, and both are keen to extend their stays.
Sio enhanced his claims for a new deal with two tries in Saturday’s last-round loss to St George Illawarra, which took him to a team-high 12 for the season.
His situation has been complicated by Newcastle’s decision to recruit Cronulla’s Edrick Lee for the next three years.
Lee and Kiwi veteran Shaun Kenny-Dowall shape as Newcastle’s first-choice wingmen for 2019, but Knights coach Nathan Brown is still hopeful of finding a spot for Sio on his 30-man roster.
“Look, it’s certainly a possibility, I’d say,” Brown said.
“Obviously the way the deal looks in those areas is probably the key to it, but he’s certainly a competent player, Kenny.
“And as you’ve seen, he’s quite a good finisher … he’s a good guy to have around the club, no trouble, so he’s one that we’ll be talking to about if he’d like to stay around.”
Asked if the Knights had yet made Sio an offer, Brown replied: “I don’t think so at this stage, but I’m sure we’ll have a chat with him this week at some stage.”
Sio’s 12-try haul was the most by any Knight since the club’s most prolific scorer, Akuila Uate, produced a dozen in 2015. It is understood St George Illawarra have expressed interest in the 27-year-old, but his preferred option is to stay in Newcastle.
Buhrer, named Newcastle’s co-captain alongside Mitchell Pearce at the start of the season, has been in negotiations with the Knights for more than a month and officials are confident the former NSW Origin utility and 2011 grand final winner will re-sign.
Newcastle’s other off-contract players to have appeared in first grade this season include local juniors Cory Denniss and Luke Yates, mid-season signing JJ Felise, rookie hooker Tom Starling and five-eighth Brock Lamb, who is expected to link with the Roosters.
Pat Mata’utia, who has not played in the NRL since his 14 games in 2016, and Tyrone Amey, who made one appearance last year, are also free agents, along with lower-graders Brent Naden and Jack Johns.
Newcastle have already lost four players from their 2018 squad, after the retirement of veteran props Jacob Lillyman and Chris Heighington, and the departure of young prospects Jack Cogger and Nick Meaney to Canterbury.
Their confirmed signings so far are Lee and his Cronulla teammate Jesse Ramien, and Melbourne’s Queensland-Origin prop Tim Glasby.
Brown acknowledged on Saturday that there were “a couple of real key areas from a recruitment point of view we need to get right” if Newcastle are to become play-off contenders next season.
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