https://www.theherald.com.au/story/...d-near-misses-that-haunt-the-knights/?cs=7580 How Sydney Roosters grand final heroes Boyd Cordner and Latrell Mitchell and several other NRL stars were lost to the Knights Every NRL club has them. The hard luck stories when it comes to recruitment and retention. Back in 1991, the Newcastle Knights signed an 18-year-old kid from Wellington, New Zealand who lasted just three weeks before he was floored by home-sickness. He was reluctantly released. It’s now history that Tana Umaga went on to become an All Black legend and one of World rugby’s greatest ever centres. Almost two decades later, the Knights narrowly missed out on signing another Kiwi, this one a young tearaway prop from Manly who instead linked with the Sydney Roosters. To this day, club officials involved in the negotiations believe an extra $10,000 may have been all that was needed to get the signature of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves over the line. There are bucketfuls of other such near misses. But then there are the players that got away or were let go that went on to achieve great things elsewhere. With a nursery the size of Newcastle and the Hunter and the amount of money being spent on development, there has been no shortage of really good kids coming through the system. The secret is in the identification and knowing which ones to keep. Because, as one Knights official told us last week, given the money in the game and the fact only a handful of NRL clubs throw big resources at junior development, “we can’t expect to keep them all”. Newcastle hasn’t always got it right in that department. Money has been a major issue in the past but there has also been some poor recruiting decisions made that continue to haunt the club. Here is a snapshot of the club’s big recruitment and retention blunders and why some big names who could have become Knights stars are either kicking goals at rival clubs or have in the past. Latrell Mitchell It may well go down as the biggest blunder in Knights recruitment history. The Sydney Roosters star and soon-to-be Kangaroos centre from Taree trailed with the Knights’ Harold Matthews Cup side when he was 15 back in 2012. He had already been in the club’s Chargers development squad but was inexplicably overlooked despite “trialing terrific”. He ended up playing juniors on the Central Coast before being spotted by the Roosters. “I was 15 but they had Brocky Lamb and I was up against him for the five-eighth spot,” Mitchell recalls. “They didn’t pick me. Every time I go up to Newcastle, I think about it. It fires me up. I just love beating them.” It was Wayne Bennett’s first year as head coach and Keith Onslow was on his way out as head of junior recruitment but he clearly remembers the trials. “He trialed terrific in a number of positions but for whatever reason, wasn’t chosen,” Onslow said. Boyd Cordner The Sydney Roosters premiership-winning co-captain, ironically another Taree boy, played for two seasons with the Knights in the club’s Harold Matthews side. But then the big spending Roosters came knocking. Their recruitment boss at the time, Peter O’Sullivan believed Cordner was one of the best players in the game in his age group. When it came time to sit down and talk money with Cordner's father Chris, the Knights knew they weren’t going to be in the Roosters’ ball-park. “I remember sitting down with Chris at Wests Leagues Club and he showed me the Roosters’ three year offer. It was massive,”Onslow said. Onslow did not reveal the figures but it’s understood Cordner’s Roosters offer was worth around $320,000 all up, a whooping $180,000 more than the Knights could come up with. “Financially back then, the club struggled to compete,” Onslow said. Josh Jackson It was the current Canterbury Bulldogs skipper’s body shape and not money that cost the Knights his signature back in 2010. Jackson moved to Newcastle with his parents Paul and Judy from Gulgong [near Mudgee] in 2007 to attend Newcastle university to begin a sports science degree. He played S G Ball for the Knights in 2009 but his cards were marked by then top grade coach Brian Smith. At the time, Smith’s recruitment philosophy centred around signing big, fast, athletic backrowers and was importing plenty of youngsters from New Zealand to fill the junior ranks. Jackson didn’t fit the mould and when Bulldogs recruitment boss Peter Mulholland showed interest, he picked up Jackson “for a song”. In his first season at the Bulldogs, he was their Under 20’s player of the year and went on to represent the Junior Kangaroos. He has now played 152 NRL games for the Bulldogs and featured in nine Origin games for NSW and two Tests for Australia. Not bad for a kid considered too small to make it. Willie Mason A giant of a man and a giant recruitment mistake. While he would eventually get to wear his home town’s jumper at the back end of his career, how the tearaway Toronto forward was missed by the Knights when his career was kicking off is a mystery. To make matters worse, the Knights ignored him not once but twice before he was forced to move to Sydney to further his career. After missing junior selection for the Knights, Mason ended up signing for the Hunter Mariners in the Super League when he was 17. But after the war ended and the breakaway competition folded at the end of 1997, the Knights, who were coming off a top grade ARL grand final triumph over Manly, had first crack at the Mariners players. Mason was again overlooked and despite hating the thought of moving to Sydney, signed with the Bulldogs for 1998 and made his NRL debut two years later. He won the Clive Churchill Medal for the player of the match in his side’s 2004 grand final win over the Sydney Roosters and finished his career with stints at the Roosters, Manly and North Queensland. In all, he played 24 Tests and 13 Origin games. Anthony Tupou Tupou was another player the Knights lost because of the big dollars on offer elsewhere and again it was the Roosters who did the poaching. The backrower, who was schooled at Francis Xavier College, was in the Knights’ system when he helped NSW Under 19’s knock over Queensland back in 2002. He was a self-confessed over-weight forward and lacked discipline at the time but then Roosters coach Ricky Stuart and chief recruiter Artie Beetson watched him closely in the rep game and wanted him badly. Former Knights chairman Michael Hill remembers losing Tupou. “He was one of our best juniors but we couldn’t get near the Roosters three year deal so we lost him,” Hill said. Luke Burt Redhead surfer who was a Valentine junior and played Harold Matthews Cup for the Knights in 1997. He played Australian Schoolboys the following year but by the time he did, he was already on the books of the Parramatta Eels. Eels recruitment boss Noel Cleal had seen him play at a schoolboy carnival in Perth and signed him for the 1998 season, right from under the noses of the Knights. Burt even remained in Newcastle to finish school in 08 with his father Dave driving him to Sydney a few times a week for training and games. He scored 24 tries in S G Ball in his first season for the club. Burt debuted for the Eels at the age of 17 and nine months in the opening game of the 1999 NRL season in front of 104,583 fans at the opening of the Olympic Stadium. He went on to have a great career, playing 264 NRL games for Parramatta over 14 seasons. Greg Inglis The Knights can justifiably be accused of letting some big name players slip through the net over the years but Inglis isn’t one of them. It is a myth the club erred in not signing him when he spent time at Hunter Sports High back in 2002. Fact is Melbourne Storm already had him under contract when he was sent to Newcastle to attend high school by his parents. The Storm recruitment boss Peter O’Sullivan had already scouted the young Kempsey-born Inglis, seeing him play for Group 2 in a junior representative game in Smithtown the previous year when he was still only 14. Inglis played for Hunter Sports in the Arrive Alive Cup before he was sent to Brisbane to attend Wavell High before linking with the Storm in 2005.