Taking charge: Incoming Knights coach Rick Stone with chief executive Matt Gidley. Photo: Darren PatemanIncoming coach Rick Stone has indicated the Knights could struggle to retain all three off-contract senior forwards Willie Mason, Chris Houston and David Fa’alogo.
The Knights confirmed on Monday that Stone would replace Wayne Bennett for the next two years, but Bennett will remain in charge for the rest of this season. Stone will concentrate on trying to win a premiership with the club’s NSW Cup squad before taking the reins from Bennett, but he wants to meet with Knights chief executive Matt Gidley as soon as possible to start planning for next year.
‘‘There’s a few things – staff and player roster are important – so myself and Matt have got to get on to that pretty much straight away,’’ Stone said. ‘‘That’s going to be an important one, particularly for the players and staff that are involved in that situation, so that’s something we’ve got to get cracking at straight away. I’m comfortable to keep my role in what I’ve been doing as assistant coach and NSW Cup coach for the rest of the year.
‘‘I’ve got four games to go in the NRL, and hopefully we’ve got a few more games at NYC and NSW Cup once the semi-finals roll around.
‘‘We’ll get a review process sorted out at the end of the year and we’ll start planning and putting some things together to get ourselves ready for the next off-season.’’
Stone said the Knights needed to bolster their front-row stocks for next year. Mason wants to continue playing next season, even if that is not in Newcastle, and his manager Sam Ayoub said he had been negotiating with two other NRL clubs on Mason’s behalf.
Houston and Fa’alogo are keen to stay but contract talks were put on hold while they waited for the club to announce Bennett’s successor. ‘‘They’re three senior players that are obviously unsigned, and they’re players that we need to talk about as a group and make some decisions on,’’ Stone said.
Meanwhile, NSW winger James McManus is unlikely to play again this season. He suffered a toe injury in the Blues’ 32-8 loss to Queensland in the third State of Origin game on July 9 then backed up in Newcastle’s 31-18 victory over Cronulla days later but has not played since.Knights high-performance manager Jeremy Hickmans said McManus would wear a protective CAM Boot for two or three weeks ‘‘so we’re not sure if he will return this season’’.
Hickmans said scans had cleared fullback Sione Mata’utia of a broken jaw.
The 18-year-old rookie was injured in a tackle by Storm prop Tim Glasby in the 43rd minute of Newcastle’s miraculous 32-30 victory over Melbourne at Hunter Stadium last Saturday night.
Glasby was charged with a grade-one careless high tackle but escaped suspension.
Whether Mata’utia plays against the Warriors at Hunter Stadium next Sunday could depend on the fitness of five-eighth Jarrod Mullen, who missed the Storm win due to a torn abdominal muscle.
If Mullen returns against the Warriors, as expected, captain Kurt Gidley is likely to replace Mata’utia at fullback, where he was originally selected for the Melbourne game.
Hickmans said Beau Scott should return after missing the Storm victory due to concussion but fellow back-rower Robbie Rochow will need to pass a CogSport test this week to be cleared to take his place against the Warriors.
Hickmans said Darius Boyd, who has not played since checking himself into a mental-health facility three weeks ago seeking treatment for depression, remained sidelined indefinitely.
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