He's the boom North Queensland Cowboys forward squarely in the sights of the Newcastle Knights. The Knights, who have made no secret of their desire to strengthen their backrow stocks, are understood to be right in the mix alongside a number of rival NRL clubs to sign towering 20-year-old edge backrower Heilum Luki for 2023. Luki, who scored a try in his NRL debut off the bench last season against the Knights in Townsville, was the Cowboys' rookie of the year and is regarded as one of the best young forward prospects in the game. He has a year to run on his current contract. Only a week ago, league great Laurie Daley questioned the Cowboys' decision to sign Wests Tigers backrower Luciano Leilua to a long term deal, believing it may potentially cost the club Luki's signature and that of 18-year-old forward Jeremiah Nanai. Wests Tigers have made a play for Nanai while Luki is also believed to be on The Dolphins' radar. Daley said of Luki on the Big Sports Breakfast: "He is a good player. I watched him play a couple of games, he's a big, rangy forward, he's only young. He's going to be something special I reckon." Luki played 11 top-grade games last season, three in the starting side, and has an imposing on-field presence, standing 195cms tall and weighing 103kgs. Departed Knight Mitchell Pearce has been back in Newcastle this week for a final catch-up with teammates and staff before he leaves for France and the Catalan Dragons after Christmas. A group of around 40 gathered for dinner at Parry Street Garage on Wednesday night for the farewell with the veteran halfback leaving on really good terms despite the publicity surrounding his release from the final year of his contract. Pearce won't be completely lost to Newcastle. He is hanging onto his house in Merewether after opting to rent it out while he is overseas rather than sell it. Don't miss our wide-ranging interview with Pearce in Monday's Newcastle Herald. His return is not set in stone just yet but there is a lot of positivity around Edrick Lee and a possible return for the Knights next season. Lee missed the entire 2021 season and there were fears he may not play again after a broken bone in his foot refused to heal. But finally, after delicate surgery to repair the damage was successful, he is back running freely, albeit only straight line running at this stage. He is currently only on a train and trial deal with the club but provided there are no setbacks, a player from the top squad may have to be moved on to make room for the rangy winger. Highly-regarded prop Jesse Sue is struggling to be fit for the start of the 2022 season after being forced to undergo two off-season shoulder surgeries. It's understood the tough-as-teak forward's initial reconstructive surgery back in October wasn't a complete success and he was forced to go under the knife a second time, leaving him next to no chance of being available for kick-off in March. Backrower Jack Johns is another absentee from pre-season training after complications following his shoulder reconstruction. There were no surprises when Kalyn Ponga and the always super-fit Chris Randall finished ahead of the rest in the Knights' traditional pre-season speed endurance test when training kicked off last week. But the big mover in the 1.2 km time trial was Kurt Mann, who finished just behind in third place, shaving six seconds off his previous best time. Another star performer, who has the coaching and performance staff raving about him, is big Dom Young, who we're told finished fourth. Triple M Newcastle's 2019 Knights call team of Frank Barrett, Michael Hagan, Marc Glanville and Matt Rodwell have been recognised for excellence after winning a coveted Australia Commericial Radio Award [ACRA] this week.