WESTS Group/Knights chief executive Phil Gardner believes Mitchell Pearce is a genuine chance of joining Newcastle and hopes Brock Lamb stays at the club to learn from him.
Considered long shots a week ago in the race for Pearce, the Knights' hopes have firmed dramatically since he visited Newcastle last Friday to meet with coach Nathan Brown.
Having established that the NSW Origin playmaker would seriously entertain the option of leaving Sydney, the three-time wooden spooners are expected to formally table a three-season deal worth more than $1 million a year.
Manly and Cronulla are also chasing Pearce but it appears unlikely their offers will be as lucrative as Newcastle’s.
“At Browny’s meeting with him, Mitchell was very positive about the football team and he’s a real chance to come,” Gardner told the Newcastle Herald on Wednesday.
“It will now be a negotiation around numbers and the style of football the team is going to play.
“That’ll all have to come together. My sense is that Newcastle is a place he would like to come to, but obviously he’s a player that other clubs are interested in, as well.
“Somewhere between now and Christmas, we’ll have an answer.”
Asked when the Knights would table their offer, Gardner replied: “It’s a matter of having ongoing dialogue.”
Gardner said Pearce’s interest was an indication that the perception of the Knights was changing, after a procession of high-profile knockbacks from players such as Jack Bird, Matt Scott, Dale Finucane and James Graham.
“The great thing now is that we believe every player will genuinely consider coming to Newcastle,” Gardner said.
“And that couldn’t be said as recently as three months ago.
“Now we think that every single player in the comp would be happy to talk to us about playing for Newcastle. It’s fantastic.”
If Pearce was to join the Knights, renewing acquaintances with former Roosters teammate Connor Watson, Lamb’s future would come under scrutiny.
The 20-year-old five-eighth from Maitland has played in 24 games over the past two seasons and is considered one of Newcastle’s brightest young prospects.
He is under contract until the end of 2018.
The Herald understands that if Newcastle sign Pearce, Manly would be interested in recruiting Lamb to replace Warriors-bound pivot Blake Green.
There is no guarantee that the Knights would grant Lamb an early release, but Gardner did not rule it out, either.
“There’s a lot of ‘ifs’ there, so we’d have to answer all those ‘ifs’,” Gardner said.
“Brock’s a contracted player for next year. He’s been part of our system and he’s improved every year that he’s been here.
“We think he’s going to improve greatly next year.
“We all hope he’s part of our program for a long time.
“We still want to keep a core of players that have come through our system, but you need to bring in some great players around them if you want to be competing with the top sides.”
Gardner said the Knights view Lamb as “a big part of the club’s future”.
He said his game would improve by playing and training alongside Pearce, a veteran of 238 NRL games, 18 Origins and the Roosters’ 2013 grand final win.
“He has to lead the team around and he’s got to help bring the young blokes on,” Gardner said.
“The Brock Lambs are important to us and Mitchell can play a big part in their development.”
Gardner said the Knights would not pay more than what they considered a fair price for Pearce.
“We would match the market value for him,” Gardner said. “We will not be paying ‘overs’ for any player.”
Meanwhile, the Knights are expected to announce on Thursday that they will play an NRL trial game at the redeveloped Maitland Sportsground.