“We would obviously like to see Mitch finish his career with us and I think that’s what Mitch would like too. We’re talking about what that looks like and what life after football looks like.”
Asked if there were plans for the 31-year-old to remain at the club when his playing career was over, Gardner said: “We have [plans]. He is already showing his leadership in bringing young guys like Tex Hoy and Phoenix Crossland through and we have a lot of good juniors coming through as well.
“We think it’s pretty important to have someone like Mitch providing that mentorship and training.
“If you look at the impact Andrew Johns has had at Parramatta this year, it’s been absolutely fantastic. We think Mitch can do the same thing here.
“We are hoping that’s where it all ends up. That’s all being negotiated. We want to focus Mitch on this year’s result, we’ve had a really good start to the year and he’s playing great football.
“He knows the high regard we hold him in and he’s getting married at the end of the year. He’s got a lot going on and we’d like to see him long term in our region.”
Best is another player the Knights want tied down. The 18-year-old three-quarter has scored six tries from as many NRL appearances and is seen as a representative player of the future. NSW coach Brad Fittler even described him as a potential bolter for this year’s State of Origin series.
Gardner said making Best a Novacastrian for life was a priority.
“One hundred per cent,” he said. “Bradman epitomises everything the Knights are about. He’s our local guy, he’s come through our system and you just put him up there in the red and blue. He’s special.
“We’d like to hold him as long as we possibly can.”
Ponga’s signature has given coach Adam O’Brien the nucleus of a side many believe will break a finals drought stretching back to 2011.
“This kid is bigger off the field than he is on,” Gardner said. “He is going to be the face of the game over the next three or four years.”
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.