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Four-pronged Knights retention spree dampens Gagai interest

Daniel Saifiti's five-year Knights extension ranks as one of the longest contracts in Newcastle's history as part of a four-prong retention spree that sees the club's interest in Dane Gagai cool.

Saifiti's retention until the end of 2026 alongside twin brother Jacob, who has re-signed for another two years, was doubled down on Friday by confirmation Kurt Mann (two-year deal) and Hymel Hunt have also recommitted in the Hunter.

All four told their teammates the news on Thursday after arriving on the Sunshine Coast this week.

Daniel Saifiti's deal especially has the NSW Origin prop well-positioned to play out his career with Newcastle, adding another four years on top of the 2022 season both he and Jacob were already contracted to play.

While the quartet's retention provides significant clarity around Newcastle's roster for the next few years, understands the Knights have baulked at Gagai's asking price during recent negotiations with the off-contract Queenslander.

Talks around a return to Newcastle for Gagai have stalled of late as the 30-year-old Rabbitohs star weighs up his future, with the retentions of Mann and Hunt as centre options pointing to Newcastle moving on.

The Rabbitohs have long indicated to Gagai that they would like to keep him for 2022, however a tight salary cap has South Sydney reluctant to go beyond their current one-year offer.

With more than 200 NRL matches and a lengthy rep career under his belt, Gagai is one of the most experienced and well-credentialed outside backs in the game, and has been touted as an ideal start-up signing for any prospective Queensland expansion side.

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A one-year extension at South Sydney would have Gagai on the market for a 17th NRL team which could potentially be entering the competition in 2023.

The NRL's latest COVID-19 enforced shake-up has clouded possible expansion moves, though the potential for a short-term deal at Redfern before re-entering the market again in 12 months still holds the same potential for Gagai to cash in late in his career.

As for Saifiti's lengthy extension, Newcastle's five-year commitment ranks it alongside deals previously done with big names Ben Kennedy (1999), Kalyn Ponga (2016) and David Klemmer (2018), and beyond the four-year contracts signed off by the likes of Andrew Johns, Matt Gildey, Mitchell Pearce and Sione Mata'utia.

Knights coach Adam O'Brien said on Friday the prospect of the Saifiti twins finishing as one-club players was just reward for their difficult introduction to first grade during Newcastle's lean dual wooden spoon run.

"It'd be a great story," O'Brien said.

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"They went through some really tough years there as young men, 18 years old playing in the middle.

"To see them come out the other side, they've really grown. Individually as players I think both of them bring the same but they also have their point of difference.

"Daniel's arguably the elite prop in the game and putting on the Australian jersey is the only thing left for him to do which I anticipate will happen.

"Jacob certainly for me has been our most consistent forward this year.

"In terms of leading 'team first' actions that don't get noticed, he leads the way in that.

"His push support, kick pressure, all the stuff that's not necessarily noted for a front-rower, he does them in spades."

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A call on Saifiti's return from a rib injury for Saturday's clash with Melbourne will be made on game day, while Queenslanders Kalyn Ponga and Mann are set to take their places against the Storm.

Star half Mitch Pearce however is in doubt with a hamstring issue that has Phoenix Crossland waiting in the wings.

O'Brien said the re-signing announcement of the Saifitis, Mann and Hunt was warmly received by Knights teammates as they settle into camp for at least a month away from home.

"We managed to tell the team last night and I think that was a huge boost for the group," O'Brien said.

"To hear that about both of those boys, they're a big part of what we do here and I'm really pleased that they're going to be a big part of our future. We can build a team around those guys.

"And it's a good show of faith that they want to continue their careers here.

"I can add that Kurt Mann and Hymel Hunt were added [as well]. There were four of them announced to the team last night having extended their time with us. It's a good way to start off our camp."

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