Speed and strong mentality to help Gagai make dazzling plays
NEWCASTLE Knights master coach Wayne Bennett believes Dane Gagai was the buy of the year in 2012.
He combined beautifully on the right edge with winger Akuila Uate after joining the club midway through the season, following some disciplinary breaches at the Broncos.
And the Mackay product, blessed with brilliant speed and footwork, has issued a stern warning to opposition clubs going into the 2013 season - expect some more dazzling plays.
The 22-year-old said he was in peak physical and, just as importantly, mental condition in a pre-season which has everybody at the Knights excited about what they can achieve this year.
"Coming to Newcastle was the change I needed. Wayne has not only helped me as a player, but off the field he's helped me grow as a man too," Gagai said.
Gagai forms a formidable combination with five-eighth Jarrod Mullen, the hulking Uate and fullback Darius Boyd.
The Knights scored a fifth-worst 448 points last season, but Gagai believes his team's attack, on the back of Mullen, is set to dramatically improve.
"Mullen's a great player and he made my job a lot easier in attack and defence last year," he said.
"Having a strong forward pack with some good signings like Beau Scott, Jeremy Smith and David Fa'alogo is only going to help him have a great year.
"All our team combinations are coming along really well so far this pre-season, and we're getting along well too."
One man who has been influential in Gagai's development has been second-rower Willie Mason, who was also a mid-season recruit last year.
"He's someone who's completely different to what a lot of people think," Gagai said.
"He took me under his wing when I joined the club, rang me up and took me out to dinner.
"I can see him going all the way this year too - he's as fit and strong as ever, and he's running 40m in 5.10 seconds, which is up there with the backs."
With Gagai now settled in Newcastle, the final piece in the puzzle was added when his younger brother Jacob signed a three-year contract going into this season.
"That was a good thing having him come down because I was getting a little homesick," Gagai said.
"He's in a new environment but he's a great runner of the ball. Once he finds his confidence he can go a long way."