OFF-CONTRACT forward Kyle O’Donnell is poised to make his NRL debut for Newcastle against South Sydney at ANZ Stadium tonight as the Knights try to continue their resurgence against one of the premiership heavyweights.
The 21-year-old younger brother of former Tigers, Cowboys, NSW and Australian hard man Luke O’Donnell was named on Tuesday on a five-man bench, and the Newcastle Herald has been told Knights coach Wayne Bennett is leaning towards including him in the final 17.
The other four players named on the bench were hooker Chris Adams, who was omitted from the team who beat Parramatta 20-12 last Saturday, and forwards Zane Tetevano, Adam Cuthbertson and Alex McKinnon.
Bennett will settle on his squad at training.
O’Donnell came off the bench in the NSW Cup representative team’s 20-14 loss to Queensland Residents in the curtain-raiser to the Origin decider at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night.
O’Donnell, who was selected for the Junior Kangaroos from Cronulla’s National Youth Cup team in 2010, joined the Knights at the end of that season and is in the second year of a two-year deal.
Nowra-born O’Donnell was a back-rower when he arrived from the Sharks, and former Knights coach Rick Stone said he had a prototype build and body shape for that position.
But as his 192-centimetre, 106-kilogram frame has filled out, O’Donnell has played mostly as a front-rower for Newcastle’s NSW Cup team this year.
That is where Bennett is tipped to use him tomorrow as the Knights play their first game of the season without former NSW and Australian prop Kade Snowden, who will be sidelined for six to eight weeks after tearing the medial ligament in his left knee against the Eels last Saturday.
O’Donnell struggled with injuries for most of last season but has fought his way back this year and is desperate for a chance in first grade to convince Bennett, or a rival NRL coach, that he is worthy of a new contract for next season and beyond.
In an interview the week before this season started, the Greystanes Devils junior said: “It was a bit disappointing last year, in terms of injuries and things like that, but this year I’m looking forward to getting some consistent footy under my belt and playing my best footy’’.
“It’s a pretty decent pack in the NRL team at the moment, but hopefully if I keep playing my best I’ll be able to force my way in there somewhere.”
Bennett named former New Zealand Test back-rower Zeb Taia to partner veteran former NSW and Australian prop Willie Mason against a Souths pack led by English Test prop Sam Burgess and younger brother Luke.
Five-eighth Jarrod Mullen will take his place for the Knights, despite suffering a thumb injury against the Eels.
That was Newcastle’s second straight win, after they upset Wests Tigers 38-20 in Newcastle five nights earlier, but they must keep winning to maintain momentum and mount a legitimate late charge towards the top eight.
Fullback Darius Boyd will return after scoring a try in Queensland’s 21-20 victory over NSW on Wednesday, and sixth-placed Souths will welcome back his Maroons teammate Greg Inglis.
A Souths spokesman said Inglis suffered a minor hand injury but was in no doubt for the game.
Rabbitohs centre Matt King (stomach) and forward Eddy Pettybourne (calf) are due to return from their injuries in the next two or three weeks.
? Former Knights prop Richie Fa’aoso could be lining up against his old club in a NSW Cup game as early as next Saturday.
Fa’aoso was released last week from the final year of his Knights contract to play out the rest of the NRL season with Melbourne Storm, whose NSW Cup feeder team is Cronulla.
The Storm host the Raiders at AAMI Park tonight but Fa’aoso has been named in the second row for Cronulla’s NSW Cup game against Wentworthville at Ringrose Park today.
If the 28-year-old Tongan international is overlooked for the Storm’s NRL game against the Cowboys at AAMI Park next Saturday, he will almost certainly play for the Sharks against Newcastle earlier that day in a NSW Cup game at Henson Park.