Ah Mau's bench impact has rivals circling
Leeson Ah Mau's blockbusting impact off the Dragons bench may end up costing the surprise table-toppers as rivals circle the off-contract prop.
The Knights are understood to be leading the pursuit of the 28-year-old front-rower, with Ah Mau recently sitting down with coach Nathan Brown and touring the Steel City, as first reported by the Newcastle Herald over the weekend.
Ah Mau's preference has been to stay at St George Illawarra and the club is hopeful of retaining him, with talks between the two ongoing for some time.
But his stunning 2018 form has coincided with the most important contract negotiations of his career, a situation that may see the Dragons priced out of the contest for his services.
Ah Mau's transformation from starting prop to interchange weapon has seen him average just 36 minutes a game across the Red V's unbeaten start to the season, the least game time he has had since joining the club in 2012.
But less is proving more for the Samoan international, who is punching out career highs for runs (11.6 a game), metres (125 a game) and tackle busts (3.4) while Ah Mau also snapped an 83-game try-scoring drought with a four-pointer against Newcastle two weeks ago.
The arrival of first Russell Packer and then James Graham at the Dragons has prompted Ah Mau's transformation from starting big man to impact man in recent years.
While admitting a run-on start would be on most any player's wish list, Graham had nothing but praise for Ah Mau's contributions to the red and white cause.
"He's been outstanding for us this year," Graham said.
"[Ah Mau] and Jeremy Latimore, when they've injected themselves into the game they've been outstanding.
"…In the past decade we've really seen it go from a 13-man game to a 17-man game. What that bench brings can almost be the difference and credit to Leeson, he's been absolutely outstanding.
"I think like most middle [forwards] he'd want to start but he's playing out of his skin when he comes on for us, that's for sure."
The Knights have well-documented cash to spend up front and have already signalled their interest in Broncos powerhouse Tevita Pangai jnr.
Newcastle will hold fire on any decisions around veterans Chris Heighington and Jacob Lillyman for some time yet, making an experienced front-rower such as Ah Mau an attractive option given the promise shown by young props Josh King and the Saifiti brothers Daniel and Jacob.
Closer to home the club has also resumed contract discussions with back-rower Sione Mata'utia, after a series of concussion issues raised concern about his immediate future in the game.
But following an off-season without any contact work and exhaustive cognitive tests that cleared him to return to the paddock, both the Knights and Mata'utia are now hopeful of tying down the local junior for the long term.
"Sione's a young Newcastle kid that has been here for a long time and we'd like to see him play his whole career here if it works out," Brown told NRL.com.
"He's a player that is definitely a part of where we'd like to get to as a club and those discussions are ongoing."