Bennett ponders best fit for team

CRAIG Gower wants to be considered as a halfback, not a hooker, in his NRL second coming with Newcastle, but Knights coach Wayne Bennett is still deciding how to use the premiership-winning former Penrith captain.
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A day after arriving from London, the 35-year-old former NSW and Australian playmaker looked sharp in his first training session with his new teammates yesterday and said he was ready to play against Melbourne at AAMI Park on Sunday if needed.

Gower was excluded from the 18-man squad named yesterday but Bennett will assess him at training and decide later in the week whether to include him for the trip to Melbourne.

“I haven’t made a decision on that. We’ll see how he goes at training and make sure he fits in OK and it’s all comfortable for him,” Bennett said.

“His priority is not just one game but a series of games.

“My first thing is to get him into the training drills, which he did this morning, and see what he’s got to offer and how it can benefit the team.”

If Gower is included in the final squad, the likely scenario is he will come off the bench to cover halfback Tyrone Roberts and hooker Travis Waddell, but there was speculation yesterday that he could start as a direct replacement for Roberts.

“My hooker days are over so I’d rather play halfback, but we’ll wait and see,” Gower said. “Hopefully I can bring a bit of leadership to the guys and help out where I can. Obviously I don’t know exactly the role I’m going into at the moment, being my first day, so it’s just about getting familiar with the surroundings and trying to fit in as quick as possible.”

Bennett said he had not spoken to Roberts or other Newcastle players about his plans for Gower “except to tell them he was coming here”.

“I don’t know how it will impact on him [Roberts]. It may be the hookers – I haven’t made a final decision on all that and how it’s going to work – so there’s no need for anyone to get ahead of themselves,” Bennett said.

“He [Gower] just put his hand up. He said he wanted to play. He didn’t tell me where he wanted to play. I’d just prefer him to do what’s right by the team.

“Is he going to a better job for us there [at halfback], is he going to a better job at hooker, is he going to do a better job at five-eighth? They’re the three positions he can play.”

Gower’s last game in the NRL was on September 1, 2007 – a 24-20 loss to the Warriors at Penrith that left the Panthers with the wooden spoon – but his last game of rugby league was just 12 days ago in London’s 30-all Super League draw with Castleford.

Gower left Penrith to switch codes and played four years of rugby union for French ‘Top 14’ club Bayonne, which led to 14 Tests for Italy, then he returned to league last year with London.

“I suppose I fell out of love with the game and I needed to freshen,” said Gower, who conceded he was nervous about his return to the NRL.

“Obviously being away, it’s been great for myself and my family, and I have that burning desire again. It’s like I’m starting over again and there’s nothing more exciting than that.”

Though he conceded his 45 games for London in the past 18 months were not of NRL intensity, he was confident of holding his own.

“I’ve been around for a while and had different experiences, from being overseas and playing with some really good players and seeing how they operate in different codes as well,” he said.

Bennett likened Gower’s return to Allan Langer answering the call from Queensland – more than two years after retiring from the Broncos to play out his career in England – for a one-off comeback in the 2001 State of Origin decider.

“He just played last week in the UK and he’s been playing all season – he hasn’t missed a game – so I’ve got to assume he’s in pretty good shape,” Bennett said.

“We brought Allan Langer back once to win an Origin game and he stood up pretty good, so I think this guy will stand up.

“I’d want to play with him, if I was in a footy team. You just want to play with the best players you can, and these guys are no different.

“As you’ve seen here this morning, he’s very focused, he communicates really well and he’s very competitive. If you’ve got that in every one of your players in your team, you’ve got a pretty good football team, so he’s got the qualities that matter.”

Bennett said signing Gower was a decision made “out of necessity more than anything else”, after captain Kurt Gidley suffered a long-term foot injury and joined fellow dummy-half Danny Buderus (back) on the sidelines.

“If we didn’t have all those injuries to our key players and experience, we may not have to have gone down that path,” he said.

Bennett said Buderus was being considered to play against the Storm.

“He’s very close but whether he’s back or not, I don’t know. We’ll go to Saturday on those two,” he said.

Winger Aku Uate (ribs) was not named but Bennett would not rule him out either.

Forward David Fa’alogo was named on a five-man bench despite suffering a knee injury at training yesterday that will require scans and follow-up appointments with medical staff today.

Craig Gower at training on Tuesday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

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