Wayne Bennett hands Stig keys at five-eighth

HE had shoulder, groin and knee surgery in the off-season, has not played in six months, and has only just resumed full training, but sweet-stepping Ryan Stig has been named to replace injured captain Kurt Gidley at five-eighth against Brisbane at Hunter Stadium on Friday.

Knights coach Wayne Bennett indicated after Newcastle’s 18-6 victory over Cronulla at Toyota Stadium last Sunday that neither Stig nor Tyrone Roberts, who fractured his eye socket in a trial against Penrith at Port Macquarie on February 11, were in the frame.

‘‘Roberts is injured, and Stig’s just coming back – this week, I think,’’ Bennett said on Sunday, and he was unavailable for comment yesterday to explain Stig’s sudden return to full fitness.

Announcing the team yesterday on the club’s website, assistant coach Rick Stone gave no insight into Stig’s shock selection.

‘‘Ryan Stig comes in for Kurt Gidley, who might be out for a couple of weeks after a shoulder injury,’’ Stone said.

Perhaps Bennett, who guided Brisbane to six premierships from six grand finals, has named Stig as a red herring to keep his old club guessing, and come Friday night will start Matt Hilder at five-eighth and keep utility Marvin Filipo as part of his bench rotation.

Hilder replaced Gidley against the Sharks and Bennett was pleased with his performance, particularly in defence, but he and Filipo were named yesterday on a six-man bench.

That includes prop Evarn Tuimavave, to cover for injured lock Neville Costigan, who was named but is being treated for a corked calf and will be monitored throughout the week.

Stig had a clean-up operation on his right shoulder in mid-October and underwent surgery on both sides of his groin later that month to treat a painful osteitis pubis condition.

The 22-year-old Morpeth Bulls and Nambucca Heads Roosters junior was not expected to resume running until at least six weeks after that procedure, but he then had knee surgery shortly before Christmas which further delayed his return to full-blown conditioning.

His last game was Newcastle’s 18-8 loss to Melbourne in the qualifying final on September 11 last year, but he has participated in skills and ballwork drills with teammates in recent weeks and seemed unhindered when running and stepping at training last week.

Stig was judged man of the match in his NRL debut – a 16-12 victory over Penrith in Newcastle on June 18 last year – and that was one of 13 appearances in the top grade.

Gidley will see a shoulder specialist today for a full prognosis on his injury. Scans on Monday revealed he had torn labrum cartilage when he partially dislocated his left shoulder tackling Sharks halfback Todd Carney last Sunday, and he expected to be out for two to four weeks.

In a statement issued yesterday by the Knights, that estimated period on the sidelines was extended to three to five weeks, which will reduce his chances of being selected for Australia for the April 20 Anzac Test.

Former Newcastle, NSW and Australian skipper Danny Buderus will captain the Knights in Gidley’s absence, as he did against Cronulla when Gidley left the field.

In the only other change to the team that defeated the Sharks, dual international Timana Tahu will return from a one-game suspension to replace Junior Sa’u at left centre.

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