Gagai's Newcastle departure 'quite shattering'
Former Knights coach Michael Hagan says the loss of Dane Gagai at the end of the season is "quite shattering" as the rebuild of the proud club takes yet another hit.
Before leaving to join the Queensland Origin team in camp in Brisbane on Monday Gagai informed his Newcastle teammates that his sixth year with the club would be his last.
The Knights landed the prized signature of Cowboys teenager Kalyn Ponga for the 2018 season before the 2017 Telstra Premiership kicked off but they have since seen Korbin Sims leave the club for Brisbane, Jack Bird elect to also join the Broncos and veteran five-eighth Jarrod Mullen suspended for four years for a doping violation.
With boasts that they have money to spend the Knights are inextricably linked with any high profile player un-signed beyond the 2017 season but the loss of their best player over the past two difficult seasons again raises questions with regards to the cub's ability to attract – and keep – top talent.
Gagai was intent on focusing only on the job at hand with Queensland when he spoke with NRL.com on Tuesday but Hagan was adamant that his departure is another blow to Newcastle's chances of climbing from the bottom of the ladder next year.
A premiership-winning coach with the Knights in 2001, Hagan was director of football at Newcastle from September 2014 until November 2015 and said that the club would be poorer without Gagai's presence both on and off the field.
"It's really disappointing now that he has established himself as one of their more senior, more consistent performers for them at that level," Hagan said of the announcement that Gagai was leaving at the end of the year.
"And the fact that he is now very much an established Origin player, I think that's quite shattering for him to move on to be honest.
"Given the fact they keep saying they've got plenty of money in the vault to spend, surely retaining a guy like Dane not just for his ability but for his character and the contribution he makes around the footy club… You've got to put some real value on that too sometimes.
"It's a shame to see him leave."
Signed by the Knights after he was sacked by the Broncos midway through the 2012 season, Gagai has played 116 games to date for Newcastle, missing just six games in five years.
Since opening the 2015 season with four straight wins the Knights have won just seven of their past 55 games yet still Gagai has been able to shine, earning his Origin debut in Game Three, 2015 and playing in all three games last year, scoring a hat-trick in the 26-16 victory in Game Two that wrapped up the series for the Maroons.
Despite his troubles at club level, the 26-year-old Mackay product said he never worried whether the lack of wins with the Knights could potentially hurt his selection prospects.
"Wherever I am at the time I'm going to be giving 100 per cent and giving everything I've got in that moment in time," Gagai told NRL.com.
"Whether that's with the Knights, I'm not worried about Origin or anything like that because there's no point in worrying about what's not happening in that moment.
"It's a bit of a tough one because you never know if you're going to get the call-up but the only way you stop that feeling is by giving everything you've got each week.
"It's not a matter of being worried, it just comes down to how much you want to give and I've been grateful enough to be brought into the side.
"Words can't describe that feeling you get when you're called up for Queensland, no matter if it's your first time or even now."
With his departure from the Knights official the popular train of thought is that Gagai will be with the Rabbitohs from 2018, the Maroons winger unwilling to confirm that and eager to ignore any potential distractions until after next Wednesday.
"We obviously sorted it out but I'm focusing on next Wednesday so I can't be worrying about anything that's going on outside of here that could distract me from my preparation here," he said.
"Obviously with such a big event you can't have any distractions so all my focus is going to be going into Wednesday night's game."