Reigning player of the year Mitch Barnett has officially kicked off negotiations to extend his contract with the Newcastle Knights.
Barnett's manager Mandy Hull met with the club's new recruitment boss Alex McKinnon for the first time late last week to open discussions about a new contract.
The formal talks came following a couple of meetings between the backrower and Knights CEO Phil Gardner early last month. Barnett, who is contracted until the end of next year, has made it clear he wants to remain in Newcastle long-term.
"Mitch has expressed that he wants to stay at the Knights and has no desire at this point in time to test the market," Hull said. "I had a meeting with Alex to talk about a new deal and get the ball rolling."
The Knights are yet to table an offer but that will be the next step with the club likely to extend Barnett for a further two years to take him out to the end of 2022.
Gardner was glowing in his praise of the Taree-born 25-year-old after he became the first dual Danny Buderus Medal winner at the end of last season, describing him as a "potential future captain".
"To me, Barney looks like a knight," Gardner told the Newcastle Herald. "He epitomises that toughness and all the sorts of attributes we want in our players.
"He loves the town, loves the club, the players love him - he bleeds blue and red and anyone who saw how badly he was hurting after those losses at the end of the season would have recognised how much it meant to him.
"He is so important to us and a real inspirational figure and is certainly a priority re-signing for us going forward. "
Barnett is one of three current players the club wants tied down before the 2020 season kicks off. Origin prop Daniel Saifiti and centre Hymel Hunt are both on the verge of officially announcing new deals after agreeing to terms for two-year extensions. That will leave 11 players from the current top squad unsigned beyond the end of next season.
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Meanwhile, Knights players will get their first taste of life under new coach Adam O'Brien on Wednesday when pre-season training officially kicks off at the club's Mayfield headquarters.
The new-look coaching staff of O'Brien, assistants David Furner and Willie Peters and transition coaches Eric Smith and Rory Kostjasyn will all be on deck for the first time.
Kangaroos prop David Klemmer, who played in Saturday night's shock 16-12 Test loss to Tonga Invitational, is expected to be one of the few players missing from the opening session.