The Newcastle Knights will soon roll out the welcome mat for injured trio Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Hymel Hunt and Edrick Lee.
While chief playmaker Mitchell Pearce remains sidelined, second-rower Fitzgibbon was this week named in the No. 20 jersey for the side’s clash with the Sydney Roosters at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday 1 May, along with gun fullback Tex Hoy, who’s been battling hamstring issues.
Wingers Hunt and Lee are both expected to return in the not-too-distant future as well.
“We’re gradually getting a few guys back,” coach Adam O’Brien said.
“Although Fitzy (Fitzgibbon) is in the 21 [squad], I haven’t fully decided what to do with him yet.
“He hasn’t played for a while, following a long lay-off thanks to pre-season shoulder surgery.
“So, it might be a matter of giving him a full 80 minutes in the NSW Cup.
“But, I’m looking forward to having Fitzy, Hymel and Edrick back in the team in the next few weeks.
“Unfortunately, Mitchell is still unavailable for another couple of months.”
Even though the Knights suffered a 24-6 loss to competition leaders Penrith Panthers in round seven, O’Brien didn’t think the scoreline was a true reflection of the battle.
“It was an attrition-based game,” he said.
“I was very proud of the boys’ effort.
“However, we need to be a little bit better with the footy.
“And, when I say that, I mean our completion rates were really good – we just didn’t take enough energy out of the Panthers.
“They’re extremely well-drilled in terms of their attack.
“They’ve been together a long time; most of them since the age of 14.
“So, they know each other’s game really well.
“I think to beat the Panthers, you’ve got to fatigue them in their defensive line.
“But, I feel we’re on the right path.
“We’ve worked on a few of our defensive issues.”
This weekend’s rivals, the Roosters, sit comfortably in fifth spot – and will provide Newcastle with a stern test at home.
However, O’Brien is wary of their talented rookie Sam Walker, who stole the show on Anzac Day with a five-star performance against the St George-Illawarra Dragons.
“He’s an exceptional talent,” he said.
“To come in on that stage (NRL), without someone like Luke Keary beside him, he’s been remarkable.
“So, we’ll keep a close eye on him.”
Date: Saturday 1 May
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium
Gates open: 4.45pm
NSW Cup: 5pm
Newcastle Knights (coach Adam O’Brien): 1. Kalyn Ponga, 2. Starford To’a, 3. Enari Tuala, 4. Bradman Best, 5. Brayden Musgrove, 6. Kurt Mann, 7. Blake Green, 8. David Klemmer, 9. Jayden Brailey (c), 10. Daniel Saifiti (c), 11. Tyson Frizell, 12. Mitch Barnett, 13. Connor Watson. Interchange: 14. Sauaso Sue, 15. Jacob Saifiti, 16. Josh King, 17. Brodie Jones. Extended bench: 18. Pasami Saulo, 19. Phoenix Crossland , 20. Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 21. Tex Hoy
Sydney Roosters (coach Trent Robinson): 1. James Tedesco, 2. Daniel Tupou, 3. Josh Morris, 4. Joseph Manu, 5. Brett Morris, 6. Drew Hutchinson, 7. Sam Walker, 8. Isaac Liu, 9. Sam Verrills, 10. Lindsay Collins, 11. Angus Crichton, 12. Sitili Tupouniua, 13. Victor Radley. Interchange: 14. Benjamin Marschke, 15. Jared Wearea-Hargreaves, 16. Nat Butcher, 17. Siosiua Taukeiaho. Extended bench: 18. Fletcher Baker, 19. Matt Ikuvalu, 20. Egan Butcher, 21. Joseph Suaalii