KNIGHTS chief executive Phil Gardner says he empathises with Wests Tigers amid unsubstantiated speculation that Newcastle are intent on poaching Luke Brooks.
Brooks, the Tigers halfback and highest-paid player, has been linked to the Knights by numerous media outlets as a possible replacement if Mitchell Pearce, as expected, is released to join Catalans Dragons in Super League.
The Knights are understood to be close to confirming Pearce's departure, which will leave them relying on Jake Clifford, Adam Clune, Phoenix Crossland, Kurt Mann and possibly Simi Sasagi to handle the playmaking responsibilities.
Brooks would appear exactly what the Knights need, the only problem being that he is contracted to the Tigers for another two seasons.
The Tigers recently refuted suggestions they would allow the 26-year-old to walk away from his deal, with the club's new football director Tim Sheens hitting out at "untrue speculation" he said was "unfair" on Brooks and the club.
Gardner said he could understand the Tigers' frustration, because the Knights have been dealing with similar innuendo regarding their superstar fullback Kalyn Ponga, who is under contract for three seasons but has various get-out clauses in the deal.
"I feel for the Tigers, I really do," Gardner told the Newcastle Herald.
"We can't talk to Luke Brooks.
"He's under contract to the Tigers for two more years, so we haven't had any conversations at all about him. Unless something changes, under the rules we wouldn't be allowed to talk to him until he's in the final year of his contract.
"The media have been speculating about this for a while now, but that's just what they do.
"We can't stop the speculation, but I can assure you it's not coming from us."
Gardner indicated Newcastle's position may change if the Tigers released Brooks.
"If he was released, or if the Tigers gave him permission to explore other options, he could talk to whoever he wants," Gardner said.
"But that hasn't happened, so the rules are quite clear. We're not allowed to talk to Luke Brooks, and we haven't."
Gardner remains confident that Ponga will see out his time with Newcastle, despite widespread reports that new franchise Redcliffe Dolphins would target him with an unprecedented offer worth significantly more than $1 million a season.
With regards to Pearce, negotiations have dragged on since the 32-year-old first requested a release more than two weeks ago. The Knights were expected to seek a transfer fee from Catalans before agreeing to terminate Pearce's deal.
"We're still trying to work our way through a solution that is fair to Mitchell and fair to the club and fair to our fans," Gardner said. "It's not easy. Our preferred position would be for him to play for us next season. That's why we re-signed him."
Newcastle's younger players kicked of pre-season training this week but their senior troops are not required to return until November 24.
AAP reports: Joey Manu is set to stay with the Sydney Roosters after opting against the lure of earning big money by testing his value on the open NRL market.
In one of the most significant developments in the NRL's transfer market, Manu has told the Roosters he will commit to the club until at least the end of 2024.
Manu had shaped as one of the free agents likely to attract a big deal for 2023 and beyond as a headline player rival clubs could approach from November 1.
The 25-year-old was easily the best centre available to interested clubs, while the Kiwi superstar was also eying a possible move to the fullback position.
It was expected he would have been of interest to the Warriors to replace Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, while several other clubs would likely have been willing to pay big money for his signature.
But any chances of that are now over, with Manu to stick with playing in the outside backs at the club he made his debut for in 2016.
It comes after Roosters coach Trent Robinson had long remained confident Manu's links to the club since age 17 would work in the club's favour.
The Roosters lost a similar talent in Tuivasa-Sheck to the Warriors in 2016, but Manu's allegiances have been enough to keep him in Sydney's east.
"Roger was only here for a couple of years before he left whereas Joey's been here for a long, long time now," Robinson said in August.
"Ever since he was a kid he came over here and started playing.
"You can see what he means to us as a team. I don't need to add much more other than that he's been a Rooster, he is a Rooster and his family are Roosters as well.
"We understand that it would be mad if there wasn't interest (from elsewhere), but we definitely want to keep him as a Rooster."
The new deal is expected to be announced soon.
Manu's decision not to look elsewhere leaves the Roosters with one of the most stable rosters in the NRL, with only seven players not locked in for 2023.
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