Knights sing show-stealing Gagai's praises
While his future beyond this season remains up in the air, Newcastle centre Dane Gagai has earned praise from his coach Rick Stone and wing partner Akuila Uate following his show-stealing performance in the Knights' come-from-behind win over the Warriors.
After scoring two tries and making multiple tackle breaks and 200-plus metres, Gagai showed why Stone never considered dropping the 23-year-old for Australian representative Sione Mata'utia for Newcastle's season opener.
"Gags is always impressive and against the Warriors it was no different. He's always willing to carry the footy and he generally comes up with solid plays to make a bit of a difference for his team," Stone said.
"He's a terrific young player and it's brilliant that he's in the right frame of mind and his footy is only going from strength to strength.
"Dane's form isn't a new thing. I think it has just been building up from his consistent training for him and this was probably a culmination of three consistent seasons."
Uate too was impressed by the man beside him in the backline, saying higher honours were just around the corner for his teammate.
"He's just becoming bigger and stronger really. Dane has been working hard on everything so it's all paying off for him now," Uate told NRL.com.
"He has learnt so much since when he first got here and he's just getting better. Ten out of ten – he's training hard and it's paying off for him.
"Hopefully he can do that for the entire year and hopefully it means better things for him. He's a very confident player and I reckon he could handle State of Origin easy."
While rumours had been rife that Gagai was keen to return to Brisbane – the club that sacked him in 2012 – to link up with former Newcastle mentor Wayne Bennett, his current coach Stone is quietly confident he can convince Gagai to stick around for a couple of more years.
"We're in the process of talking to his manager and we're just about in a position to submit a formal offer. I like to think [we'll keep him]," Gagai said.
"He has a lot to weigh up – he obviously has his family back up in Queensland and he has some good, strong roots in Newcastle now. He's a player we're desperate to keep because he still has plenty of good years ahead of him."