Barry Toohey column: Dragons prop Ah Mau in the sights of the Newcastle Knights

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After being beaten up in the forwards by a physical St George Illawarraon Easter Sunday in Wollongong, it is no surprise the Knights’hunt for frontrowre-inforcements for next season isa priority.
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The club has already confirmed they have made inquires about enticing young tearaway Brisbane Broncos prop Tevita Pangai Jnr back to Newcastle.

Leeson Ah Mau after scoring against the Knights last Sunday.

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

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 isthe playerhighonthe 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 powerhousesecond half try last weekend.

This column understands the 28-year-old Samoan international hasalready been in townfor 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 the NRL’shottest young frontrower but the rise of Tevita Pangai Jnr at the Broncos has come as no surprise to Knights backrower Lachlan Fitzgibbon.

Pangiis a Newcastle Knights junior who the club desperately wanted to keep.

But he slipped out of the system after his family left Newcastle and moved to Canberra when he was still a teenager.

Broncos prop Tevita Pangai Jnr

Fitzy clearly remembers playing alongside Pangai in South Newcastle juniors in an Under 17 grandfinal several years ago.

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

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

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.

Canberra Raiders fullback Jack Wighton

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

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

And it appears hecould 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 sideand actually played for junior club South Newcastle in a trial a few weeks back.

Willie or won’t he play for the Rosellas ?They struck out with former Kiwi Test forward Frank-Paul Nu’uausala and now it seems there is a cloud overWestern SurburbsRosellas other big name new signing Willie Tonga.

Willie Tonga [left] playing for the Kangaroos in 2004.

The former Kangaroo and Queensland Origin centre,who turns 35 this year, will see specialist Neil Halpin on Monday to find out if a knee injury will prevent him even lacing upthe boots for the Rosellas.

“There is a bit of a concern there,”coach Matt Lantry told us.

“He had a little op at the back-end of last year and it hasn’t responded. We’ll know more after he sees Neil.”

For a good causeThe reaction from the wider sporting community to the financial plight of former Jets skipper Jobe Wheelhouse and his junior football tour groups highlighted by my colleague James Gardinerin theNewcastle Heraldearly last month has been enormous.

A fund-raiser tonight was to have been held atCharlestown Bowling Club but was switched toNewcastle Racecourse marqueeafter 420 tickets were sold.

Some of the outstanding auction items up for grabs include aLionel Messi-signed Barcelona jersey, Wayne Rooney-autographed boots and shirt and Socceroos, Matildas and Jets gear.

Knights captain Mitchell Pearce has donated a signedand framed 2017 Game two NSW State of Origin jumper while a pair ofMike Tyson-signed gloves and racing memorabilia from n Bloodstock will also feature.

Organisers will be hoping there will be plenty of people there with deep pockets.

Decent proposalKnights star Nathan Ross hired a photographer and told his partner Nikea Jones he needed her and their two young kids Ziah and Willow to be in aphoto shoot with himfor theNewcastle Heraldat King Edward Park.

It was only after all the shots were taken and he got down on one knee to propose last week that Ross let Nikea in on the ruse.

She still said yes.

SpottedOur spies tell us sacked Knights utility Dylan Phythianhas been to a few Lakes United training sessions but he is yet to beregistered.

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