Knights coach Adam O'Brien and controversial Kangaroos centre Latrell Mitchell are "mates" who formed a close bond last season when they worked together at the Sydney Roosters.
But money rather than friendship will ultimately decide where Mitchell's playing future lies and it appears that won't be in Newcastle anytime soon.
As the Knights kicked off pre-season training with a short but intense field session on Wednesday, O'Brien refused to completely rule out going after Mitchell at some stage in the future but hosed down speculation he could make an immediate play for the high-priced centre, citing the club's tight salary cap position.
Instead, the Knights are closing in on the signatures of two unheralded outside backs to bolster their squad for next season.
"They'll be young outside backs who are looking for an opportunity to get themselves into a system," O'Brien revealed. "We should know answers from two of them [the players we are talking to] over the next few weeks."
Mitchell's future has been a hot topic of conversation in the NRL with the Roosters confirming on Tuesday they had withdrawn an offer to him for a two year contract extension beyond 2020 worth $1.6 million.
There has been speculation Mitchell could be released immediately from the final year of his deal because of the impasse but the Knights won't be among his potential suitors if that is the case.
It's also highly unlikely the club will find the money for 2021 but O'Brien claimed you never say never to signing elite players.
"You can never put a line through elite superstar players but at the same time, it is a long way away from happening just due to the amount of money that you'd have to pay for Mitchell," O'Brien said.
"Any team in the comp would be lying if they said they wouldn't be interested.
"But the salary cap, that's the biggest variable in this. He's an exceptional talent and I connected really well with Latrell, we are mates. But having said that, there are a lot of things to go through in terms of our own."
O'Brien is fully aware of the emergence of young outside backs such as Bradman Best and Starford To'a.
"You've got some young guys here that don't necessarily want a road-block either," he said. "Their development is really important to me. I think we have some good kids here. Getting the right balance in your cap is important. At the moment, we've got a really good spine, we've got some good guys up front in the forwards but you can't have everyone. That's why there is a salary cap. We've got young guys like Bradman Best to consider."
Meanwhile, O'Brien claimed utility Kurt Mann and youngster Phoenix Crossland were the frontrunners to play in the contentious five-eighth spot outside skipper Mitchell Pearce next season. But he hasn't completely ruled Connor Watson out of playing a halves role.
"I won't make a rash decision early," he said when asked about the position that gave ex-coach Nathan Brown so many headaches last season.
"I'll give everyone an equal opportunity to show what they can do and then make the right decision rather than make the quick one.
"I've got a bit of time. I do have a plan in and around those guys. Certainly Kurt and Phoenix are the two I'm leaning towards at the moment but having said that, I've got some real good planning for Connor. I think he adds so much to us in that x-factor role but he could still be a guy that could jump out at six.
"I see him a little bit like [Cameron] Munster in the early days. The good thing is I've got options there. We've got a heap of utility players - that number 14 type utility player."
While Crossland played just 12 minutes off the bench in the NRL last season, O'Brien likes what he sees in the young representative playmaker.
"I really like the look of Phoenix Crossland, both physically and actually what he does with the game," O'Brien said. "He's got a really good kicking game, a good strong passing game so I see him as an option."
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O'Brien says the heavy reliance and pressure on Pearce to be a "nine out of 10 for us to win" is not healthy for the team.
"My perception at the moment is that Mitchell needs to play well for us to win," he said.
"So on game day, what happens if he wakes up and feels crook? Do we not play?
"You're a team, a squad and I need to get everyone playing to a higher level in and around him. Guys like KP (Ponga) are the same. We won't be a team that's just throw the ball to Mitchell or throw the ball to KP and hope something happens."
With the club about to sign two outside backs, that will leave just two spots open in the 30-man roster.
O'Brien has openly said he is looking to bolster his backrow stocks but indicated he is in no hurry and will closely monitor the market before making a decision.