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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald
Barry Toohey

TOOHEY'S NEWS: Wigan threaten to torpedo Knights' plan to sign French

First, they blocked the Knights' bid to gain an early release next season for boom young backrower Kai Pearce Paul.

Now it appears English Super League club Wigan is doing everything it possibly can to convince their try-scoring freak Bevan French not to link with Newcastle in 2023.

It's understood former Parramatta Eel French, who has been seriously looking at a move back to Australia after four seasons with Wigan, agreed to terms with the Knights on a one-year-deal for next season several weeks ago.

Bevan French

But the Warriors are refusing to concede defeat, upping the ante over the past few weeks with an offer that apparently blows the Knights' deal out of the water financially.

As it stands, there has been no definitive decision either way on his future but at the very least, French is now no certainty to be in Knights colours next season.

Fullback vacancy

What could sway French Newcastle's way is if there is suddenly a vacancy at fullback in the Knights lineup for 2023.

That scenario is starting to look more of a possibility with Knights coach Adam O'Brien telling this week's Toohey's News Podcast he is open to the idea of moving Kalyn Ponga into the halves if the club fails in its bid to sign halfback Luke Brooks from the Wests Tigers.

O'Brien wants to make a call on Ponga's position when pre-season training kicks off in early November. The Knights had been linked to Manly wing/fullback Ruben Garrick if Ponga was to move but French's preferred position is at the back rather than on the wing so he would also be an option.

Kalyn Ponga

A potential Ponga move could also open the door for luckless English recruit Bailey Hodgson who only turned 20 on Monday. Hodgson's two seasons at the club have been dogged by injury and no-one deserves a big change of fortune more than he does.

Also during the podcast, O'Brien insisted Ponga won't be dumped as captain and hinted at a possible move to the wing for Maroons' Origin centre Dane Gagai next season.

Klemmer dilemma

David Klemmer is coming off his best season for the club but as hard as it may be for many fans to comprehend, it is not a huge stretch to consider he may have played his last game for the Newcastle Knights.

At this stage, the big prop still has another year to run on the lucrative five-year-deal he signed with Newcastle back in late 2018 and there is no real talk of Klemmer departing. Certainly, it doesn't appear the club is actively shopping him around.

David Klemmer

But given the Knights seem highly unlikely to re-sign him beyond the end of next season because they have the Saifiti brothers tied to long-term deals and a talented crop of young props coming through the system, if a longer term deal from an NRL rival materialises after November 1, big Klem would clearly have to seriously consider it and the Knights would be unlikely to stand in his way should he decide to go.

Parramatta was keen to pick him up for the remainder of this season prior to August 1 but nothing eventuated.

'Ogre' finishes up

Hull KR-bound Willie Peters is not the only footy staff coach departing the Knights.

NSW Cup coach Mark O'Meley has also left the club after a couple of seasons and has been linked to a move to his former Bulldogs club.

The Knights are yet to announce a new reserve grade coach but we understand current NRL assistant Eric Smith will take the reins and also become the club's transition coach.

Eric Smith

Adam O'Brien is open to the idea of bringing in an experienced new assistant coach to replace Peters but at this stage, an appointment appears unlikely given there are few available candidates.

It's expected the club will advertise for a new head of high performance following the abrupt departure of controversial former boss Hayden Knowles a few weeks ago.

Keeley suspension

How quick the wheel of fortune turns.

A few weeks ago, teenage backrower Oryn Keeley was celebrating a surprise 11th hour call-up to make his NRL debut off the bench for the Knights against the Canberra Raiders. But the elation he would have felt then has turned to devastation now with the youngster rubbed out of the Jersey Flegg Under 21's finals following a three-match suspension.

Keeley will miss today's major semifinal against the Sydney Roosters at Jubilee Oval and won't take any further part in the finals.

Ron Griffiths' unbeaten women's side also take on the Roosters in a top-of-the-table clash on Sunday with the side already qualified for the finals after three straight wins.

Baz's Best winner

It may not hold the same prestige as him winning Players' Player on Danny Buderus Medal night but prop David Klemmer is Baz's Best 2022 Player of the Year, holding off Dom Young to take the crown.

Rd 25: Knights vs Sharks

3 Tex Hoy 2 Dom Young 1 Edrick Lee

Final points: 21 David Klemmer 16 Dom Young 10 Kalyn Ponga, Mitch Barnett, Tyson Frizell 9 Edrick Lee 8 Jayden Brailey 7 Kurt Mann, Anthony Milford, Tex Hoy 5 Chris Randall, Dane Gagai 4 Jake Clifford, Enari Tuala 3 Daniel Saifiti, Jacob Saifiti 2 Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Simi Sasagi, Krystian Mapapalangi 1 Bradman Best, Phoenix Crossland.

Hammo's powerful message

In the wake of the suicide death of former Cowboys coach Paul Green and to mark R U OK Day this week, ABC Newcastle's voice of sport and prominent mental health advocate Craig Hamilton has released a powerful 10 minute short film, One Conversation, in conjunction with Green Frog Productions.

Craig Hamilton

If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favour. It's a compelling short story of his own mental health experiences that features Jessica Rowe and Paul Harragon. It's on Hammo's website,

We loved........

Kurt Gidley's highly emotional reaction to being inducted into the Knights' Hall of Fame last week. The only pity was Newcastle's current NRL squad wasn't there to witness first hand how much the well-deserved accolade meant to the Knights' great.

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