VIDEO: Old hand Gower ready to play  

MATES: Willie Mason and Craig Gower catch up. Picture Max Mason-HubersCRAIG Gower was halfway through his first training session with the Newcastle Knights when we were reminded that recruiting veteran players can be a risky business.

As Gower barked orders and darted around the field, looking anything but a jetlagged 35-year-old who has not played in the NRL for six seasons, on a nearby patch of turf Newcastle’s support staff were tending to stricken forward David Fa’alogo.

The 32-year-old, who has played in 11 consecutive games including his round-three debut, was eventually helped to the change rooms amid fears that he may have damaged the medial ligament in his right knee.

He was soon booked in for scans and was expected to receive the prognosis today.

The former New Zealand international was nonetheless named on the bench for Sunday’s clash with Melbourne at AAMI Park, but if he is ruled out then he will have plenty of familiar faces in the casualty ward.

Among them are a host of players who, like Gower and Fa’alogo, are closer to the full-time siren than the start of their careers.

Gower, the former Penrith skipper who has spent six years in Europe playing rugby union and for the London Broncos, has become the ninth player on Newcastle’s roster over the age of 30.

Of Newcastle’s 30-plus contingent, five were unavailable for Saturday night’s loss to St George Illawarra – Kurt Gidley (foot), Danny Buderus (back), Timana Tahu (calf), Anthony Quinn (eye) and Matt Hilder (hamstring).

Knights coach Wayne Bennett was hopeful Fa’alogo’s name would not have to be added to that list.

“He just got an impact on his knee this morning,” Bennett said yesterday.

“We don’t think it’s too bad . . . it is a possible medial.

“It was just a knee into him and his leg collapsed.

“But that’s the worst-case scenario, the medial.”

Injuries, of course, are an occupational hazard in a sport as brutal as rugby league, regardless of whether players are rookies or grizzled stalwarts.

But Newcastle’s casualty toll is doing nothing to disprove the theory that with each passing year players become more susceptible to breaking down, and need longer to recover.

Of the 56 over-30s who have played in the NRL this season, eight are Knights.

No other club in the NRL has as many 30-somethings.

Bennett, however, is not interested in birth certificates.

As he said in December: “I don’t look at their ages, I just look at how they play.”

And while Bennett said the main reason for recruiting Gower was to bolster Newcastle’s injury-hit squad, he had “no doubt” that the former Test hooker-half could potentially play on next year.

“The way they train today and the people involved with them . . . I just looked the other day and there’s five guys nearly at 300 games in the NRL,” Bennett said

“Longevity for the good pros is more relevant than it’s ever been. Just the way they get managed at their clubs is the real key to that.

“But we’re not going to worry about next season.

“We’ll get this one over and see how he feels and what we want to do.

“That’s the understanding we both have.”

Asked if he was interested in going around again next year, Gower replied: “Maybe.

“I’m not really concentrating on next year at the moment.

“I know that we’ve definitely got 11 games to make the finals and then we’ll see what happens.”

Gower, of course, was one of the NRL’s best playmakers in his prime.

Bennett even used the word “champion” to describe him yesterday.

His class could give the Knights a whole new dimension, providing his old legs are still up to it.

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

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

SCANS: David Fa’alogo.

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