SOUTH Sydney mentor Michael Maguire has emerged as a genuine contender to coach the Knights next year.
The Newcastle football committee will begin a series of second interviews with selected candidates this week, amid speculation that an appointment is imminent.
Former St George Illawarra and St Helens coach Nathan Brown is reportedly still favourite but the Newcastle Herald has been told Maguire is in the mix if he is keen.
Maguire, who coached Souths to a drought-breaking premiership last season, is in his fourth year with the Rabbitohs and is contracted until the end of 2017, so he would have to seek and be granted a release from that agreement if he was serious about replacing Rick Stone.
‘‘He is under contract at Souths, but he knows our position if he is interested,’’ a source with knowledge of the interview process said.
The Herald sought comment from Maguire on Sunday, but a Souths club spokesman did not respond to a text message.
Knights chief executive Matt Gidley, who has ruled out caretaker Danny Buderus as a contender for the full-time job, would not comment when asked on Sunday about the Maguire development.
‘‘The club will commence the second-interview process regarding coaches this week. The strongest candidate or candidates will be asked to present to the full board following this,’’ Gidley said.
Newcastle football committee chairman John Quayle sounded out Maguire last month as part of the club’sdue diligence to determine whether the 41-year-old former Melbourne assistant would consider accepting the challenge of rebuilding the Knights.
It is understood discussions with Maguire’s management have been ongoing since then but neither party has indicated whether he is interested in leaving Souths, whose title defence is in tatters after successive blow-out losses to the Broncos (47-12) and Bulldogs (32-18).
Souths (30 points) have slipped to seventh and will be without senior players Issac Luke (suspended) and John Sutton (broken leg) and possibly Greg Inglis (knee) when they play leaders Sydney Roosters (38) at Allianz Stadium on Friday night.
The Rabbitohs were a $9 title chance with TAB杭州夜网m.au before their loss to Brisbane on Thursday but have blown out to $21.
Rabbitohs chairman Nick Pappas on Mondaydenied Maguire was set for a move.
To put an end once & for all to a limping dog of a ‘story’: Madge ain’t going nowhere.
— Nick Pappas (@Navlakas) August 31, 2015
The Knights will begin their final week back on the bottom of the ladder after their 20-18 loss to the Bulldogs, and victories by Wests Tigers and Gold Coast.
The Tigers handed the Warriors a second successive 50-16 thrashing at Campbelltown, and the Titans upset the Dragons 28-26 at Robina.
Newcastle are one of four teams on 20 points but their for-and-against points difference of minus 136 is worse than the Raiders (minus 12), Tigers (minus 73) and Panthers (minus 80). The Raiders and Panthers play in Canberra on Monday night.
The Knights play the Panthers at Penrith on Saturday in a game that could leave the loser with the wooden spoon, depending on Penrith’s result against Canberra.
Meanwhile, Gidley anticipated Knights recruit Trent Hodkinson would be fully fit by the time he reports for pre-season training in November.
Hodkinson, who has signed a three-year deal with the Knights, suffered a season-ending dislocated wrist when tackled by Tariq Sims on Saturday.
‘‘I’m not aware of the full details regarding Trent’s injury, but our medical team will assess him when he arrives at the club,’’ Gidley said.
A Bulldogs spokesman said on Sunday that the NSW halfback would require minor surgery and was not expected back during the finals.