Costigan says Knights pack must lift for Panthers

LOCK Neville Costigan has urged Newcastle’s forwards to lift their game against Penrith at Hunter Stadium tonight to give go-to men Jarrod Mullen, Kurt Gidley and Darius Boyd a chance to kick-start the team’s sputtering attack.

Seventeen days since their 12-4 loss to the Dragons at Kogarah, the Knights will chase just their second home win of the season against a Panthers outfit who have been held scoreless in their past three hours of rugby league.

Newcastle have been only slightly better in attack, scoring just three tries in their past two games and 17 for the season.

Boyd, the highest-profile recruit in the club’s history, has made a steady but less than spectacular start, but Costigan sensed his 2010 premiership-winning former Dragons teammate would make more of an impact with the ball if the forwards gave him and the halves better opportunities.

Costigan said the return of Gidley, who has not played since suffering a knee injury against Melbourne on March 30 and missed their 24-10 loss to Brisbane on March 16 due to a partially dislocated shoulder, would restore Newcastle’s stability.

Veteran dummy half Danny Buderus, who caused a stir when he withdrew from the Country Origin team to rest Achilles tendonitis and had been on light duties at the Knights last week, missed training yesterday due to a stomach virus but is considered a certain starter tonight.

The Knights have played just two games this season, a 20-6 away win against the Bulldogs and a 34-22 away loss to Melbourne, starting with Boyd at fullback, Mullen at five-eighth, Gidley at halfback and Buderus at hooker.

‘‘Our defence has been all right in the last six weeks or so, but we’re sort of lacking that attacking spark,’’ Costigan said.

‘‘Darius has been pretty good. He’s been good for us, but with our halves being in and out, he hasn’t been able to get a good combination going with our halves, but hopefully with Kurt back, and touch wood he stays injury-free, he will come back to his best.

‘‘I think it all comes back on us forwards. If we run forward and get the backs a good play-the-ball, cause we’ve been pretty quiet, so as soon as we click, they’ll click too, but that will come.’’

Gidley said his knee had felt strong for the past fortnight and he will resume the goal-kicking duties tonight.

Penrith are missing key players Michael Gordon (leg), Tim Grant (calf), Nigel Plum (shoulder) and Kevin Kingston (elbow) to injury, but coach Ivan Cleary will welcome back game-breaking centre Michael Jennings from a pectoral muscle injury and is not expected to make changes to the 17-man squad he named on Tuesday.

Forward Clint Newton, one of four former Knights in the Penrith squad, has been named on the bench to make his first appearance at Hunter Stadium since leaving Newcastle after a bitter split with former coach Brian Smith midway through 2007.

? The Knights qualified for the Harold Matthews (under-16) grand final on Saturday courtesy of a 34-16 victory over Balmain in the preliminary final at St Marys.

Newcastle will play Parramatta in the decider, also at St Marys, after the Eels pipped Penrith 12-10 in the other grand final qualifier.

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