BARRY TOOHEY Sporting news and views – Toohey’s News

Knightsrecruits setto face image testNewcastle Knights have officially shut the door on any potentialapproach to controversial Brisbane prop Matt Lodge for next season.

And club insiders sayfuture recruits will have to not onlymeet the image standards ofthe Knights but more significantly,of owners Wests Group.

“Would our major sponsor nib want an Israel Folau for instance, given the publicity surrounding what he has said recently, or a Matt Lodge representing them?” one source said.

“Individual cases will be judged on their merits but Phil [CEO Gardner] has already shown howhigh the bar is set regarding behaviour with what’s happened to Dylan Phythian.”

Matt Lodge

In many people’seyes, the Knights dodged a bullet when Lodge said no to a substantial offer from the club late last yearto instead sign with the Broncos for this season.

When it comes to his footy, Knights coach Nathan Brown is a big Lodge fan. He believes it is a matter of when, not if, he plays Origin for NSW.

He also has an intimate knowledge of how hard Lodge has worked over the past two years to turn his life around off the field.

But thebacklash to him signing here would have been every bit as damaging as it has been in Brisbane.

And while Wayne Bennett said he signed Lodge because“he is a good footballer”, that clearly won’t bethe only criteria in future Knights negotiations with players.

Warriors after Knights targetThere was speculation this week that suggestedDragons prop Leeson Ah Mau had inked a three year deal with the Knights. Not so.

The Knights are cautiously optimisticof snaring him but we are hearing the Warriors may have thrown their hat into the ring as well.

Ah Mau was born and raised in Auckland and started his NRL career across the ditch in 2009.

But he played only two top grade games with the Warriors before he was shown the door at the end of that season. He has since played a further156 matches.

Knights insiders are privately hoping he holdsa grudge against his home-town club.

Pearce senior’s each-way betSo who will n Rugby League Commissionerand former Tigers legend Wayne“Junior”Pearce be supporting when the Mitchell Pearce-led Knights take on his former club in Tamworth today?

Mitchell Pearce with his father Wayne

“The heart is torn so you can say my left ventricle will be hoping for a Knights win and my right ventricle will be on the Tigers,”he told us with a laugh.

We call itsitting on the fence Junior.

Wests’ welcome mat for JohnsMatty Johns’ son Jack has been struggling to crack it for a spotin the Knights’ NSW Cup side so far this season and there is talk he willplay for the Wests Rosellas in the local competition this season whenever he misses selection.

Jack Johns

The name Johns associated with the Rosellas and not the Cessnock Goannas?

Grandfather Gary will be having nightmares.

Chipping away athis handicapLachlan Fitzgibbonmay not have a lot of time over the winter but there will be no excuses ifthe Knights try-scoring machine doesn’tget his golf handicap down by the end of this year.

One of the NRL’s most improved players, Fitzgibbon is a keen golfer andhas just bought a house less than a nine iron away from Merewether Golf Club in Adamstown which he is renovating with a mate.

Giantsa home away from homeEnglish Super League club Huddersfield is becoming a home away from home for current and former Knights staffers.

Nathan Brown coached the Giants before winning a Challenge Cupwith St Helens and more recently, Rick Stone has beenin charge.

Now Knights NSW Cup coach Simon Woolford is about to take over.

He’ll run into a familiar facethere. Former Knights high performance boss Mark Andrews has just starting working with the club.

Trainer Ben Smith facesuncertain futureIs rising racehorse trainer Ben Smith about to pay a price for his success and be forced to take his training base out of Newcastle?

We understand that is the fearunless local racing officials work with Smith to help accommodate his rapidly expanding stable.

Trainer Ben Smith

Smith, who grew up in Scone and spent time as a barman before getting into the racing game,has 15 boxes at Newcastle Racecourse but after capturing the headlines in recent times with Group 1-winning horses like In Her Time and El Dorado Dreaming, his operationnow boasts more than 50 horses.

Several are yearlings and a number are in pre-training but it won’t stay that way for long and it isgetting to the stage where he may have to start knocking back horses with nowhere to housethem.

Typically, Smith refusedto be critical of local officials when we contacted him this week but admitted he is reluctantly looking at his options in Sydney and at Hawkesbury.

Ben Smith with In Her Time

“I’m even willing to build my own boxeshere at Newcastle because I don’t want toleave but I’m going to have to make a call within the next few months if nothing changes,”Smith said.

Over to you Newcastle Jockey Club.

Trainer calls in his overdue debtsWho is thelocal Newcastle trainer [not Ben Smith] who is owed so much money, he has been forced to call on the services of a part-time debt collector forhelp?

Jets on target for big crowdGiven how hugethe game is, it should be a no-brainer the Newcastle Jets’ A-League qualifier next Friday night is tracking towards a crowd in excess of 20,000.

As of close of business yesterday, around 11,000 tickets had already been sold despite the fact they don’t becomeavailableto the general public until Tuesday.

“Only ourmembers have been able to purchase ticketsand we have sold more tickets than we have members,”Jets CEO Lawrie McKinna told us yesterday.

Jets CEO Lawrie McKinna

“The away team’s fans will be able to buy them from Monday morning with the general public here in Newcastle able to get them from 9am Tuesday.

Jets owner Martin Lee will arrive in Newcastle on Thursday to attend the game.

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