Barry Toohey: Newcastle Knights sight Dragons prop Leeson Ah Mau

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On the radar: St George Illawarra prop Leeson Ah Mau leaves Knights defenders in his wake in scoring a try at WIN Stadium last Sunday. Ah Mau is on the Knights’ recruitment radar for next season. Picture: AAP
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After being beaten up in the forwards by a very physical St George Illawarra on Easter Sunday in Wollongong, it is no surprise the Knights’ hunt for front-rowreinforcements for next season isa priority.

The club has already confirmed they have made inquires about enticing young tearaway Brisbane Broncos prop Tevita Pangai Jnr back to Newcastle.

But his $600,000 plus a season asking price is apparently not something the Knights will seriously entertain.

The likes of Shannon Boyd and Josh Papalii are off contract at the Canberra Raiders while Bulldogs prop Aiden Tolman was shopped to the club earlier this season.

But the word is the playerhigh onthe club’s wish-list is Dragons prop Leeson Ah Mau, who left a handful of would-be Knights defenders in his wake in scoring a powerhouse second half try last weekend.

This column understands the 28-year-old Samoan international hasalready been in town for talks with club officials and a look around the city, a prerequisite for any potential new recruit.

Ah Mauhas loads of experience.

He made his NRL debut for the Warriors back in 2009 as a 19-year-old, has played 158 games in the top grade and has spent the past seven seasons at the Dragons.

Despite his longevity, the thought is he is only just peaking as a player and hisstats this season would seem to back that up.

Despite playing less than 40 minutes on averageoff the bench, he is coming on and making a huge impact, averaging around 135 metres a game.

In the Knights’ favour is the Dragons have plenty of high-priced forwards on their roster and will struggle to come up with a deal to keep him.

Pangai threat no surprise to FitzyHe is rated as the NRL’shottest young front-rower but the rise of Tevita Pangai Jnr at the Brisbane Broncos has come as no surprise to Knights backrower Lachlan Fitzgibbon.

Pangai is a Newcastle Knights junior who the club desperately wanted to keep. But he slipped out of the system after his family moved to Canberra when he was still a teenager.

Read more: Knights bid to bring Pangai back to Newcastle

Fitzy clearly remembers playing alongside Pangai in South Newcastle juniors in an under-17 grand final several years ago.

“Tevita and Sione [Mata’utia] were both 15, playing two years up in the under-17s, and still killing it despite the age difference,” he said.

“We had a good side and I think we won thegrand final something like 42-0.”

Oh brotherChanel Mata’utia may not be the only member ofthe family to be playing local league in the Newcastle premiership this season.

Chanel will playfor the Cessnock Goannas this year afterwalkingout on the final year of his contract atthe Knights a couple of weeks into pre-season training.

Read more: Chanel Mata’utia quits the Knights

And it appears he could find himself coming up against his brother Pat at some stage. Still on a lucrative Knights deal until the end of the season, Pat isstrugglingto force his way into the club’s NSW Cup side and actually played for junior club South Newcastle in a trial a few weeks back.

Knights on Wighton watchKnights officials will be watching the developments surrounding fullback Jack Wighton and the Canberra Raiders very closely.

There is speculation Wighton could be sacked by the clubif he is charged and subsequently found guilty of an alleged pre-season altercation currently being investigated by police.

Everyone knows Newcastle isdesperate for quality outside backs but what most don’t know is Wighton’s management apparently made some discrete inquires with the Knights before the start of thisseason to see if the club was interested in signing him if he was to leave Canberra.

The suggestion at the time was Wightonsees his best chance of playing representative footy as acentre and not at fullback where he plays for the Raiders.He would be a great pick-up but a potential NRL ban if he is charged and found guilty would throw a spanner in the works.

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