Newcastle Knights are in danger of losing one of the game's most promising young halfback talents to the Melbourne Storm.
Jonah Pezet is under contract to the Knights until the end of 2022 with the 17-year-old rated so highly, he is already regarded by the club as the long-term heir apparent to Mitchell Pearce in the number 7 jersey.
He led the Knights to a premiership win in the Harold Matthews Under 16's competition last season before playing for NSW and was part of a Future Blues two day camp run by Brad Fittler, Danny Buderus and Andrew Johns last December.
But there is no guarantee he will be at the Knights next season with the youngster and his father Troy having spoken to the Storm about a possible move to Melbourne in 2021 if he can gain a release from his Knights contract.
Troy Pezet was a long-time Knights staffer who was implicated in the removal of Nathan Brown as coach late last season before he himself was made redundant by the club and lost his job as recruitment boss last October.
Whether his controversial departure is directly tied to the situation now surrounding his son's future is open to conjecture. We attempted to contact Pezet yesterday in a bid to clarify the situation but he did not return our call.
Knights current head of recruitment Alex McKinnon admitted he was aware of the rumours surrounding young Pezet when we contacted him during the week.
He said he could not give any assurance at this stage if Pezet will be at the club next season despite confirming he has two years left on his contract.
"I'm aware of Melbourne's interest and it is a very delicate situation which needs time to be handled correctly," McKinnon told us.
"Our main focus right now is the NRL and making the finals. Adam and his staff are focusing on that.
"What I'll say is that there is a young man in the middle of this that I respect enormously and it's really important it is handled correctly because I have a lot of time for Jonah. He has a lot of talent and has the potential to be one of the most talented young halfbacks in the game."
The Knights have invested plenty of time in young Pezet and obviously have the power to make him see out his contract. But there are suggestions the club may ultimately not stand in his way if they believe it is in his best interests to depart.
"It's going to be a tough one to manage," one source told us.
Paying a price
The Knights will have a $2.5 million chunk of their salary cap sitting in the grandstand today when they take on the Wests Tigers at McDonald Jones Stadium.
They will be without eight injured stars for the game worth more than a quarter of their salary cap with star teenage centre Bradman Best the latest to join the casualty list.
Best will have surgery on his injured ankle on Tuesday with the club to know more on how long he faces on the sideline following the operation.
Knights coach Adam O'Brien suggested when the competition resumed after the COVID break he may be forced to use his entire 30-man squad just to get through the season. He's almost done that with eight games left to negotiate before the finals.
New signing Blake Green and rookie winger Starford To'a will be the 28th and 29th players used by O'Brien in the top grade when they run out against the Tigers.
The Sydney media story linking the Knights to Bulldogs veteran Kieran Foran for next season died a sudden death not long after it was published last weekend.
No surprise given his name hasn't even been on the club's radar.
The Knights suspect the story was a plant from a player agent trying to force the Bulldogs hand.
Granville first target
We're told North Queensland hooker Jake Granville was the Knights' first target when coach Adam O'Brien decided to loosen the purse-strings and seek a reinforcement before the player signing window closed on Monday.
A replacement hooker was initially the priority.
Granville has been struggling for game time at the Cowboys but wasn't prepared to leave Townsville because it's understood his mother is seriously ill.
With no hookers up for grabs that the Knights were keen on, O'Brien widened the net a little and the possibility of snaring Blake Green was tossed up. The coach jumped at it.
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Tigers' milestones celebrated
They will no doubt get short shrift when it comes to favours during the game today but the Knights will be doing their part off the field to make sure the milestone matches of Tigers veterans Benji Marshall and Chris Lawrence are special.
Marshall will play his 250th top grade game for the Tigers while Lawrence chalks up 250 NRL games against Newcastle.
While no fans from Sydney, including Knights members, are permitted to be at the game due to club-imposed COVID restrictions, the Knights have made an exception for the Marshall and Lawrence families. They will be in separate private boxes cheering for a Tigers win.
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