UNTIL now, it has taken a teammate’s suspension or injury for Junior Sa’u to force his way into the Knights’ NRL squad this season.
The former Kiwi Test centre has earned a recall on his own merits for Newcastle’s game against North Queensland at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night, replacing Fijian Test captain Wes Naiqama at right centre inside NSW and Australian winger Aku Uate.
Since his debut in 2008, the Auckland-born 25-year-old has played 78 NRL games for the Knights in the past four seasons and had been a regular member of the backline under former coaches Brian Smith and Rick Stone.
Current mentor Wayne Bennett preferred Timana Tahu and Naiqama as his centres for the first game of this season against the Dragons, but Sa’u was promoted the following week against Cronulla while Tahu served a one-game suspension.
Tahu returned in round three against the Broncos but Naiqama suffered torn knee cartilage in that game and was sidelined for a month, giving Sa’u another four-game stint in first grade.
Naiqama returned from that injury in the Knights’ 34-14 victory over Penrith on Monday of last week, sending Sa’u back to the NSW Cup squad, but Naiqama has been dropped for the Cowboys game as a result of Newcastle’s 24-6 loss to the Roosters at Allianz Stadium on Sunday.
Sa’u has remained positive despite bouncing between the NRL and NSW Cup teams, and scored a try in Newcastle’s 44-8 rout of Mounties in the NSW Cup game at Cessnock last Saturday.
In Naiqama’s absence, halfback Tyrone Roberts will take over the goal-kicking duties.
In other team changes, prop Evarn Tuimavave will return from the corked thigh that kept him out of the Roosters game. Tuimavave will replace Richie Fa’aoso, who drops back to the bench.
Matt Hilder was named to start at hooker, pushing Neville Costigan back to lock after the former Dragons, Raiders and Broncos utility started at dummy half against the Roosters. Costigan has effectively replaced suspended bench forward Joel Edwards, who pleaded guilty to a grade-one dangerous throw on Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce and must miss one match.
Adam Cuthbertson, who started at lock against the Roosters, will join Fa’aoso, Willie Mason and Alex McKinnon on the bench on Saturday.
Cowboys coach Neil Henry named bench forward James Segeyaro after the Townsville-based club decided yesterday to contest the severity of Segeyaro’s grade-two high tackle on Dragons skipper Ben Hornby last Friday.
Segeyaro has pleaded guilty to the tackle and will miss the trip to Newcastle to serve a one-game suspension if the NRL judiciary rejects his appeal tonight. If he has the charge downgraded, the pint-sized powerhouse will be free to take his place on the bench.
Co-captains Johnathan Thurston (concussion) and Matt Scott (foot) were named to face the Knights despite sustaining injuries in the Cowboys’ 30-6 win over the Dragons.