OFF-contact outside backs Kevin Naiqama and Peter Mata’utia are expected to receive another chance to advertise their wares in the NRL shop window when Newcastle take on competition leaders South Sydney at ANZ Stadium on Saturday.
The Knights are set to field a depleted squad minus their three main strike weapons, skipper Kurt Gidley, fullback Darius Boyd and winger Akuila Uate, all of whom are either unavailable or in doubt with injuries.
Gidley and Boyd were selected by NSW and Queensland respectively for Origin I tomorrow week, but Newcastle’s skipper was a shock withdrawal last night because of a foot injury.
Boyd also faces a race to prove his fitness for the series opener after injuring his lower leg/ankle in Sunday’s 28-12 loss to the Warriors in Auckland.
Despite the Knights stating on their website yesterday that Boyd had been ‘‘cleared of serious injury following scans on Monday’’, there are fears he has suffered a syndesmosis injury, which means tearing the ligament that binds that tibia and fibula.
Queensland have named Melbourne winger Justin O’Neill on standby in case Boyd is ruled out.
Uate was replaced early in the second half with rib-cartilage damage and would appear at long odds to line up against the Rabbitohs.
Rib-cartilage injuries are notoriously painful and, while players sometimes carry them into games with the aid of pain-killing injections, this usually delays the healing process.
Uate is expected to have scans today and until he has those results, Knights physiotherapist Phil Coles said ‘‘we can’t be sure on time frames’’.
Uate’s likely absence would create a selection dilemma for Knights coach Wayne Bennett, leaving him with an extra vacancy in his backline.
Kevin Naiqama, who scored two tries against Canterbury nine days ago but did not retain his position, is a certain selection, either at fullback or on the wing.
Mata’utia, who has not played in the top grade since June 9 last year in a 32-16 loss to Canberra, is the next most experienced candidate.
Naiqama has scored nine tries in his 10-game NRL career and Bennett admitted after his performance against the Bulldogs that it would be ‘‘almost impossible’’ for the Knights to retain him, because he was ready to establish himself as a first-grader.
It is understood other NRL clubs – and rugby union outfits – are already circling the 24-year-old.
Mata’utia appeared a rising star when he made his NRL debut in 2011 but was cruelled by injuries last season.
The former Australian Schoolboy’s manager has been negotiating with the Knights recently about contract extensions for Mata’utia and his younger brothers Chanel, Pat and Sione, who also play for the Knights.
Other possible replacement options include powerful centre Siuatonga Likiliki or even goalkicking winger Josh Mantellato, who has been a prolific pointscorer in the NSW Cup for the past two seasons.
Veteran centre Timana Tahu, who was dropped after the 44-14 loss to Canberra three games ago, has not played since because of a calf injury.
Gidley’s unavailability means Travis Waddell is likely to be promoted from the bench to the starting side.
Waddell may have to share the dummy-half duties with a stop-gap hooker, such as Neville Costigan, to accommodate the return from suspension of enforcer Jeremy Smith.
Smith has missed five club games and the Anzac Test match since being found guilty of a dangerous throw on Matt Robinson in the round-six win Penrith.
The 33-year-old’s return will be welcomed by Bennett, who admitted Newcastle were overpowered and physically intimidated by South Sydney’s giant pack in two heavy defeats last season.