THE Newcastle Knights' hopes of lining up a quality replacement for Mitchell Pearce appear tenuous after the Wests Tigers defiantly declared Luke Brooks was going nowhere.
Pearce has attracted a three-year offer from French club Catalans Dragons that he is reportedly eager to accept, the only problem being that he is under contract to Newcastle for next season.
There has been widespread speculation that he was poised to ask the Knights to grant him an immediate release, but the Newcastle Herald understands the club is yet to hear from Pearce.
Knights CEO Phil Gardner said last week that Pearce "is still contracted to us for 2022 and we expect him to honour his obligations", but that might be open to negotiation if Newcastle had a viable alternative.
There were reports on the weekend that the Knights were interested in the enigmatic Brooks, despite his contract with the Tigers for two more seasons.
At 26, Brooks has played in 172 NRL games but is yet to make an appearance in the play-offs. While he has been much maligned at times, he would appear an ideal replacement for Pearce.
But the Tigers made their position clear with a statement from their new football director, Tim Sheens, who described Brooks as an "integral part" of the club's long-term plans.
"Luke Brooks is contracted with Wests Tigers until at least the end of 2023 and, contrary to media speculation, will not be leaving the club," Sheens said.
"Wests Tigers have been definitive on this matter and will continue to reiterate this against any untrue speculation.
"It is unfair on Luke, his teammates and family, as well as those involved with the club, to raise false conjecture on his future lying away from Wests Tigers."
Knights officials remain hopeful they can persuade Pearce to defer his move overseas until the end of next season.
That would appear one possible outcome after Catalans recruitment officer Alex Chan told the Sun-Herald on the weekend: "We are prepared to wait but it would be a bonus if we could get a deal done soon."
At this late point in proceedings, quality halves in the marketplace are few and far between, given that many of them have already changed clubs.
Among those to have found new employment are Adam Reynolds, Shaun Johnson, Chad Townsend, Nicho Hynes, Anthony Milford, Jackson Hastings and Jamal Fogarty. Ash Taylor is reportedly joining the Warriors on a train-and-trial basis.
Should the Knights relent and agree to let Pearce leave early, they already boast reasonable depth in the halves, in Jake Clifford, Kurt Mann, new recruit Adam Clune and promising youngsters Phoenix Crossland and Simi Sasagi.
Former Newcastle captain Jarrod Mullen, who has been cleared to return to the NBL after serving a four-year drugs ban, might also be a bargain-basement option.
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