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As his former club reels under the weight of the salary cap and a devastating loss to last-placed Cronulla on Saturday night, Newcastle coach Brian Smith is already looking towards 2011 after signing winger Akuila Uate to a new four-year deal over the weekend.<br><br>Smith was heavily criticised after wielding the axe upon his arrival from Parramatta two years ago at a club where old timber was usually allowed to stand, but his short-term pain looks like bringing long-term gain.<br><br>Only Matt Hilder and Richard Fa’aoso – currently in talks with the Knights – remain unsigned for next season and Smith is now set to turn his sights to the nine players coming off contract at the end of next season.<br><br>They include NSW State of Origin prospect Chris Houston, fullback Wes Naiqama, winger Cooper Vuna and impressive back-rower Zeb Taia.<br><br>“That’s the goal now,” Smith told today after watching his side upset competition leaders the Bulldogs 22-14 in Gosford yesterday.<br><br>“All of those guys are reasonably keen [to re-sign] but that’s something Keith Onslow (recruitment manager) and I will have to work through together over the coming months.<br><br>“We’re certainly looking within – the problem we’ve got now, like any club, is that when you start to do better and you have guys coming off contract it’s hard to keep them all happy.”<br><br>Newcastle might have crept under the radar somewhat this season to plant themselves in the top four but the club has been quick to tie up the majority of its squad.<br><br>While Smith said today that both Adam and Luke MacDougall would leave at the end of the year, the Knights have already re-signed key players Steve Simpson, James McManus, Jarrod Mullen, Cory Paterson and captain Kurt Gidley to long-term deals.<br><br>Scott Dureau, Mark Taufua and Daniel Tolar have also been secured.<br><br>“Most of the guys have been done for next year,” Smith said. <br><br>“There are still a few to be done but we’ve made some inroads. <br><br>“Most of those guys that played first grade yesterday are under contract and on extended deals. <br><br>“The MacDougalls will both finish up with us this year and we’ll probably lose one or two more but hopefully not too many.”<br><br>The main concern for the Knights right now remains Fa’aoso, who is involved in a dispute between management companies although the club is confident that they can come to an agreement once his legal issues are resolved.<br><br>“Richard and Matt (Hilder) are being spoken to at the moment,” football manager Warren Smiles said. “We’re not looking to sign too many players. <br><br>“We might sign one in a certain position once we get to that point but we’re meeting each week to keep ourselves up to date but in the meantime it’s all about form. <br><br>“We’ve got a reasonable squad there and they’re all young fellas so we’ve got it all pretty much locked up.<br><br>“The others (those off contract after next season) will be assessed through this year and the salary cap will become the issue in terms of increases and bonuses. <br><br>“But they are in good form and we are looking favourably upon them. The fact that we’ve signed Uate to a four-year deal shows that we want to lock everyone up.”<br><br>Newcastle’s fortune is in direct contrast to his former club Parramatta, who fell 13-10 to Cronulla on Saturday night and face a daunting trip up the F3 to EnergyAustralia Stadium on Sunday to face a fit and firing Knights side that will welcome back Origin stars Gidley and McManus.<br><br>“We’re looking good,” Smith said today.<br><br>“Shannon McDonnell picked up a slight concussion yesterday but other than that we didn’t have a single injury so we’ll all be ready to go next week.”
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