Teams scheduled for round 1 – Knights: Ponga in doubt for start of season in first hiccup for halftime change
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As part of a series showcasing the expected first-round squads for the 17 NRL clubs in 2023, the Knights are one team in need of an overhaul.
Newcastle manager Adam O’Brien agrees there have to be changes for the Knights to fire again and that will hinge on star Kalyn Ponga’s involvement.
It was a step back, however, as it was revealed his captain had suffered a calf injury which would rule him out of the All Stars game – where he previously represented his Maori heritage – and potentially both tries, leaving him in a race. to gain sharpness before Round 1.
Ponga moves to half-time for 2023, a training plan suited to the demands of the frontline defense having been agreed as early as last year, as soon as Ponga was ruled out for the season due to repeated concussions.
Newcastle have agreed a deal for Sharks speedster Lachie Miller to make an immediate switch so he is likely to start the season at the back.
The Knights were one of the NRL’s biggest underachievers last year and O’Brien enters the season under pressure after the team took a huge step back from back-to-back Finals campaigns.
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Ponga and co-captain Jayden Brailey were out injured for much of last season and the Knights can’t afford long absences among their key players because they lack spinal depth.
Who is new?
There are five new faces and all have the potential to make an impact.
Experienced striker Adam Elliott made the switch after a season restoring his reputation on and off the pitch with the Raiders while Jack Hetherington headed north from the Bulldogs where his stint was marred by suspensions and injuries.
After chasing Luke Brooks to solve their half-back dilemma, the Knights landed Wests Tigers teammate Jackson Hastings, who may be the on-field organizer they lacked last season following Mitchell Pearce’s departure to the Super League. .
Brisbane’s Tyson Gamble will likely end up as a bench utility while Titans winger Greg Marzhew should deliver plenty of yards out of the backfield and attacking wide punching power.
Who has left ?
David Klemmer’s move to the Wests Tigers as part of the Hastings trade leaves a big hole in terms of experience and lead.
The departure of fellow forwards Mitchell Barnett (Warriors), Jirah Momoisea (Eels), Pasami Saulo (Raiders) and Sauaso Sue (Hull KR) also reduced Newcastle’s depth in the squad.
Starting halves Anthony Milford (Dolphins) and Jake Clifford (Hull FC), substitute hooker Chris Randall (Titans) and utility Tex Hoy (Hull FC) complete an exodus of NRL-level talent even though many of them failed to regularly cement stains.
Key points to unlock
Ponga’s predicament is central to the team’s composition. The club will hope he can stay on the pitch for full-time halves, with Miller cementing the full-back spot ahead of injury-plagued England full-back Bailey Hodgson as there is no other specialist fullbacks in the team.
The Saifiti twins will likely be the starting props with Klemmer gone with Hetherington and Elliott potentially as one of the bench options for the centre-forward rotation.
Predicted team for round 1
1 Lachlan Miller
2 Dominica Young
3 Dane Gagai
4 Best Bradman
5 Greg Marzhew
6 Kalyn Ponga
7 Jackson Hastings
8 Daniel Saifiti
9 Jayden Brailey
10 Jacob Saifiti
11 Tyson Frizell
12 Lachlan Fitzgibbon
13 Kurt Mann
14 Tyson’s Bet
15 Jack Hetherington
16 Brodie Jones
17 Adam Elliott
Other team members: Mat Croker (suspended until round 3), Bailey Hodgson, Adam Clune, Dylan Lucas, Enari Tuala, Hymel Hunt, Jack Johns, Krystian Mapapalangi, Leo Thompson, Phoenix Crossland, Simi Sasagi.
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