Newcastle Knights have knocked back an approach from the Gold Coast to release former Kiwi Test prop Herman Ese'ese from the final year of his contract to immediately link with the Titans.
But his longer term future in Newcastle is not as cut and dried with talk the club will struggle to hang onto him beyond this season.
It's understood the Titans, who were desperate to bring Ese'ese in straight away as a replacement for injured prop Ryan James, still have a lucrative two year deal on the table for 2021-22. They will lose Queensland Origin prop Jai Arrow to South Sydney at the end of the year and need to bolster their middle forward ranks.
Despite being in a strong salary cap position, the Knights still have to prioritise on where their money is spent and it's highly unlikely they will be able to match rival offers of more than $500,000 a season for Ese'ese, particularly if they manage to land a marquee backrower such as Tyson Frizell.
With Origin props David Klemmer, Daniel Saifiti and Tim Glasby and the emerging Pasami Saulo already locked up and Mitch Barnett moving to a middle forward role this season, the club is well off for props. It's likely off-contract Jacob Saifiti, who impressed during the Nines, will become a bigger priority if Ese'ese departs.
The irony of course is the club was shopping Ese'ese around for 2020 towards the back end of last season and were open to letting him go when ex-coach Nathan Brown was still in charge. But they couldn't find a taker.
It was only when Adam O'Brien arrived that Ese'ese was taken off the market with the current coach a big fan of the point of difference he brings to the Knights pack.
An injury setback a couple of weeks ago will see Ese'ese miss today's trial in Maitland against the Dragons but he should return for the Sydney Roosters trial next Saturday.
Don't be surprised if he has a big season because of O'Brien's strong backing.
Take the tip
If we were picking a starting backrow for the Knights' season opener against the Warriors right now, it would look like this - Lachlan Fitzgibbon on the left edge, Sione Mata'utia on the right and Mitch Barnett at lock.
That leaves Tim Glasby, Aidan Guerra and Jacob Saifiti fighting it out for two bench spots with Herman Ese'ese and Connor Watson to fill the other two spots.
We're told 18-year-old centre Bradman Best could miss the opening month of the season after undergoing surgery for a fractured foot.
But even without him, the Knights could still start the season with one of the youngest centre pairings in the competition.
New signings Gehamat Shibasaki and Enari Tuala, who will start in the centres in the Dragons trial today, are both just 21.
Tex on the rise
Is young fullback Tex Hoy in for a pay rise in the very near future? It's certainly looking that way.
We told you weeks ago that coach Adam O'Brien had already ear-marked Hoy for a potential NRL debut around Origin time when Kalyn Ponga will be unavailable. Hoy only reinforced that thinking during the NRL Nines.
But as it stands at the moment, he is only a development player and can't debut in the NRL until after June 30. Two Origin games will be done and dusted by then.
So, we're expecting him to fill one of the three spots remaining in the top 30 squad with former Gold Coast Titans outside back Tyronne Roberts-Davis to snare another. The Knights have until March 1 to fill 29 spots on their roster with the remaining position to be filled by June 30.
Connor Watson reckons representing the Indigenous All Stars tonight on the Gold Coast is right up their among the highlights of his career.
"Mum and dad are going to be there and even my brother, I think, and I won't have a prouder moment than when I pull on the jersey,"Watson told us.
As for his Knights teammate and house mate Kalyn Ponga, who will spearhead the Maori All Stars opposition, Watson joked:
"I'll be looking to take his head off or at least steal his head-gear if I get close enough."
Former Newcastle Knights utility Dylan Phythian has been given a second chance at launching an NRL career following an approach by the Manly Sea Eagles.
In potentially a huge blow to the Central Newcastle Butcher Boys, Phythian will trial with the Eagles over the next few weeks with the prospect of landing a contract at the age of 24.
He made his NRL debut for the Knights at the back end of 2016 but suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opening round of the 2017 season against the Warriors in New Zealand.
His career came crashing down when he was sacked by the Knights 12 months later after testing positive to social drugs for a second time.
After one game for Lakes in Newcastle after serving a 12 game suspension, he moved to the Burleigh Bears and was a member of their premiership-winning Queensland Cup side last season before signing with Central in a real coup for the Butchers for this season.
The news is bitter-sweet for Central coach Phil Williams, who confirmed he may lose his star signing.
"We are obviously disappointed in one respect because he's our marquee signing and has been really good for us during the pre-season," Williams said.
"But at the same time, the club is really happy for Dylan to get another opportunity and at the end of the day, that's what we should be about. Bringing players through and giving them the opportunity to play at the highest level possible."
Eel on board
Giant teenage Eels backrower Toni Mataele has agreed to terms with the Knights for the 2021,21 and 23 seasons.
Mataele, originally from Newcastle, doesn't turn 18 until December but already weighs 105 kgs.
ABC's new man
It's not official yet but we're hearing former Fox Sports presenter Glen Lauder will be calling all Knights games for ABC Newcastle radio this season.
It follows the highly controversial axing from the call of respected local sports presenter Craig Hamilton at the end of last season. Given the hostile reaction to news that Hamilton was being replaced, it won't be an easy gig for Lauder.
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