There is a simple reason why Kalyn Ponga won't be signing a contract extension with the Knights anytime soon and it has nothing to do with money and everything to do with ambition.
The Knights have been widely criticised in some sections of the media this season for supposedly sitting on their hands and being tardy about trying to negotiate a new extended deal with the brilliant young fullback.
It's rubbish of course. The Knights would upgrade and extend Ponga beyond 2021 in a heartbeat if they could. But they can't for one simple reason. He is not yet ready to commit his long-term future to the club. And that's not because he wants to leave. Far from it. He and his family love it in Newcastle.
The real reason is he is ambitious. The guy wants to play Origins, he wants to play for Australia and he wants to win premierships or at the very least, be part of an organisation that is genuinely challenging for them. Why would he commit now without a clearer picture of what lies ahead?
Ultimately, Ponga's decision on his future will come down to the success of the football club around him. If he and his family can't see a potential premiership on the horizon over the next five years, there is no guarantee he will stick around to see if one might eventuate.
That is the big challenge for the club going forward in relation to Ponga. It's not about being able to find $6 million over the next four years which his manager reportedly asked for several weeks ago.
The real challenge for coach Nathan Brown, CEO Phil Gardner and the club's hierachy is building a squad around Ponga that is capable of helping him achieve the lofty goals he and everyone else has set for themselves.
And it's not all about recruitment. The pressure will be on Brown as coach to do whatever is necessary to get the very best out of the squad he has built. Do that and his champion fullback will have no reason to go anywhere else.
Newcastle fans will either view it as a bad omen or a "we're due" scenario but the assistant referee for today's clash against Parramatta at Bankwest Stadium is Jon Stone, who the Knights have never won under.
Their record in 11 previous matches that Stone has officiated in is a duck egg.
He's had quite a few mates to be fair but Knights skipper Mitchell Pearce has been a long way short of his best since Origin lll with the radar on his short kicking game in particular all over the shop at times over the past month.
But if you remember back to when the Knights emerged from out of the black hole of five straight defeats earlier in the season with a win over Parramatta, it was Pearce who was the inspiration.
The big players stand up in the big games and we are reliably told Pearce won't want Eels opposite Mitchell Moses grabbing the limelight at Bankwest Stadium with it all on the line for the Knights.
Just where shopped Knights hooker Danny Levi ends up next season may well be decided by Manly hooker Api Koroisau in the next week.
Along with Knights prop Herman Ese'ese, Koroisau is believed to be on the verge of signing with the Bulldogs, who are also in negotiations with Jesse Ramien.
Koroisau' signing would close the door on Levi potentially moving to Belmore. He met with Bulldogs coach Dean Pay a few weeks back but while the meeting went well from all reports, Koroisau is the Dogs' No 1 target and the talk is that's where he will be in 2020.
The Warriors have also publicly expressed interest in Koroisau but the strong mail is he doesn't want to move to Auckland. Where that leaves the Warriors, who need to sign a hooker, is up in the air. To date, they have shown no real interest in Levi but that could change once Koroisau is off the market.
Levi, who celebrated the birth of daughter Nylah with fiance Kimberley Goodearl late last week, is contracted to the Knights for another year but is telling people his preference would be to head north to either Brisbane or Gold Coast if he leaves Newcastle. The Broncos appear an unlikely option but the Titans have new coach Justin Holbrook coming in and could be interested.
Expanded Real NRL push
Another push is on for the Newcastle rugby league competition to be boosted by the addition of clubs from the Central Coast as early as next season.
We've heard The Entrance, Wyong, Woy Woy and Erina are all open to the possibility of playing in a NSWRL-run Northern Conference competition that would include all eight of the Real NRL's district clubs.
The idea is the local competition's current five grade system would not change but the Central Coast clubs would only be entering the first grade competition and be expected to fulfill their current grade commitments on the Central Coast.
It's not the first time a potential joint competition has been talked up without anything eventuating so it's hard not to be sceptical but Newcastle RL CEO Matt Harris confirmed there have been preliminary discussions.
"There is some interest from Central Coast clubs and there is a meeting down there of all their clubs to talk about competition structures at the end of this month," Harris said.
"From our point of view, nothing changes for our clubs but there would clearly be some scheduling issues to work through given only first grade sides would be playing from down there. Harris said the concept has been spoken about at NSWRL level."
There is little doubt the injection of some new clubs, particularly heavyweights like Wyong and The Entrance, would add another dimension to the local comp. Hopefully, there won't be any barriers put in the way this time around.
Nothing's assured when it comes to player contracts but the Knights remain quietly confident of snaring Sharks backrower Kurt Capewell.
We are hearing the Warriors have gone in big for Capewell but have been told his preference is to remain in Australia while the Gold Coast are also believed to have been sniffing around. The Knights biggest hurdle could be him actually leaving the Sharks.
They are currently shopping other players around to create space and could still come up with an offer to keep him in the Shire.
Meanwhile, outstanding young Knights outside backs Starford Toa and Bradman Best will both return from injury next weekend in Jersey Flegg after six weeks on the sideline. Don't be surprised if one or both make their NRL debut before the end of the season.