NEWCASTLE are hoping to harness the emotion surrounding departing players and use it to their advantage in Sunday’s season finale against Cronulla at McDonald Jones Stadium.
MOVING ON: Queensland Origin flyer Dane Gagai has one more game for the Newcastle Knights before he links with South Sydney next year. Picture: Darren Pateman, AAP
At least three members of Newcastle’s likely 17-man squad –Dane Gagai, Joe Wardle and Mickey Paea – will definitely be playing their last games for the club, having signed elsewhere for next season and beyond.
HOMEWARD BOUND: English import Joe Wardle has played in 17 NRL games.
Gagai, Newcastle’s only current Origin player, has signed a four-year deal with South Sydney after six seasons and 127 games in the red-and-blue.
A strong showing could well secure him a berth in the Kangaroos’ squad for the end-of-season World Cup.
VETERAN: Mickey Paea has been a popular clubman for two years.
Wardle (Castleford) and Paea (Hull FC) are both returning to the English Super League after playing 16 and 19 games for Newcastle respectively.
In addition, centre Peter Mata’utia and back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon are out of contract and have reportedly attracted interest from rival clubs.
Knights lock Mitch Barnett said the desire to send teammates on a high note –as well as upholding the tradition of performing well on Old Boys day –would provide Newcastle with a wealth of motivationagainst the defending premiers.
“Last game of the year, Old Boys day, and a lot of us won’t play together again,’’ Barnett said.
“We owe it to our fans, and our club, and ourselves just to finish on a really good note …
“Some blokes are already moving on, and a couple have had to retire.
“It’s come up a little bit, but not too much.
“But this week it will probably be a little motivational, along with Old Boys day.’’
Barnett said Newcastle’s players had not discussed theirchances of avoiding the wooden spoon this week.
To do that, the cellar dwellerswill need to upset the Sharks and hope the Warriors beat second-last Wests Tigers.
In the process, a 42-point turnaround in for-and-against statistics will be required.
It would appear highly unlikely, but Barnett said he preferred to reflect on the improvements Newcastle have made this season.
He was adamant that next year they will hand the spoon, which they look certain to collect for a third consecutive season, to some other poor unfortunates.
“We can’t just rely on good players coming in,’’ he said.
“We’ve got to work really hard, continue to develop …I’d like to think we won’t be in this position next year.’’
Barnett believesa top-eight finish is not beyond Newcastle next season.
“I’d like to think so,’’ he said. “I’m very confident and I thought that at the start of this year, that we’d be somewhat around the top eight.
“But compared to last year and we have improved, and if we work hard in pre-season and all next year, I believe we will be around the finals.”
Meanwhile, Knights prop Josh King has avoided suspension by pleading guilty to a dangerous-contact tackle on Clay Priest in last week’s loss to Canberra.