Newcastle Knights legend Jarrod Mullen has been given the green tick to return to the game after his drug ban dating all the way back to late 2016.
The Newcastle Knights have secured the signature of Dane Gagai, who will return to the Steel City on a three-year contract beginning in 2022.
Gagai previously spent six seasons with the Knights from 2012-2017, where he developed into a Queensland and Australian representative player.
The Knights have lacked serious depth in the outside backs since his departure in 2017, but his return is just what Newcastle have been looking for as they try to build a consistent force to be reckoned with.
His signing shapes as a pivotal moment for their future, with a cavalcade of players being unable to nail down a spot on the right side.
Sione Matautia, Enari Tuala, Kurt Mann, Jesse Ramien, Tautau Moga, Nathan Ross, Cory Denniss, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Gehamat Shibasaki have been some of the names in previous years who have spent time in the centres for the Knights, with none of them ever making a permanent home in the back line.
In 2020 the club realised they have a superstar in the making in Bradman Best at left centre, but not enough attention has been paid to what’s happening on the other flank.
Couple this with short cut options to who plays outside of Mitchell Pearce in the five-eighth role, injuries to big-name recruit Tyson Frizell and the introduction of Jake Clifford mid-season, you can see a trail of inconsistency in the line-up which has lead to a huge weakness in the team.
The opposition in 2021 has scored 36 tries down that right-edge corridor in just 17 games.
To be an elite team in the NRL, the Knights cannot afford to be giving up at least two tries down that side of the field.
A new-look edge of Frizell, Clifford, Gagai and Hymel Hunt can cause teams headaches in attack, but more importantly, it has specialist players in their correct positions.
Provided they get some love from the injury gods, they’ll be able to build confidence in their defensive structures and make the move up the ladder their fans have been waiting two decades for.
What led to Gagai’s 2017 departure?
Gagai was the lone representative player at the Knights during their run of three-consecutive wooden spoons and he was attracting healthy offers from rival clubs to leave Newcastle.
The Knights’ salary cap was in awful shape for many years after Nathan Tinkler’s tumultuous period as club owner, and it meant a sub-par product with bad players being paid exceptionally good money.
To rebuild the roster, Knights hierarchy spent two years cleaning house and had 2018 pencilled in as the year they could get the salary cap back in shape, and as a consequence Gagai had to look elsewhere if he wanted the big pay day he deserved as a Queensland superstar.
The South Sydney Rabbitohs came to the party with a four-year deal rumoured to be in the vicinity of $3 million, which blew the Knights out of the water for what they wanted to pay him.
Gagai will be 31 when he next pulls on Newcastle jersey, but he returns as a well-rounded veteran who has been in outstanding form for the Rabbitohs over the last two seasons. He will also come on a more ‘team-friendly’ contract, which will allow the Knights to continue to build a solid overall playing roster.
How will Gagai be used?
Gagai is one of the best outside backs in the competition in contact, leading the South Sydney Rabbitohs backs in tackle busts with 63 on the season so far. He is still averaging 120 metres per game, which is right in line with his career average, so he can be used as an effective yardage player out of trouble to get the Knights moving forward.
He also has 11 line breaks and six line break assists playing on the inside of Alex Johnston as a part of the lethal left-side of South Sydney, so he is still an effective strike weapon when his team’s get inside attacking 20.
He should be able to strike up a good combination with fellow Queenslander Hymel Hunt, who he played with in 2018 at South Sydney.