De Gois fitness open to conjecture

ISAAC De Gois remained uncertain about his chances of playing in tonight's qualifying final against the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium despite Knights coach Rick Stone confidently declaring the rugged hooker had passed a fitness test yesterday "with flying colours".

De Gois (knee) and back-rower Zeb Taia (shoulder) were Newcastle's main injury concerns leading into tonight's showdown and were subjected to a rigorous hit-out before boarding the team bus to Sydney yesterday.

"We've just had a fitness test for Isaac De Gois and Zeb Taia, and both passed, which is a huge boost to the team," Stone said.

"We're really looking forward to going into the game at full strength."

De Gois limped off in the second half of Newcastle's win against Penrith last weekend after two heavy knocks to his left knee, and Taia partially dislocated his right shoulder a week earlier in the loss to Canberra.

Stone said he had been prepared a few days ago for the likelihood of losing both players.

"It's fair to say I am surprised," Stone said.

"Earlier in the week I didn't give either of them much of a chance.

"But as the week went on, both the boys had a really positive mindset about their respective injuries and both turned up this morning really enthusiastic.

"They got into their work, they did a full-contact session with the rest of our playing group who aren't going down to Sydney, and they've come through with flying colours, so it's a huge boost to our team."

De Gois, however, was not so confident.

"I had a run this morning and it didn't feel too bad, but I'll just wait and see how it feels in the morning," he said.

"Then me and Stoney will have a chat and go from there . . . it's not 100 per cent yet.

"I'll have to talk to the physio and the doctor and Stoney as well."

Stone said Newcastle would be "one to 17" when they run out tonight, which means back-rower Cory Paterson will drop off the bench.

But outside back Keith Lulia, forward Cameron Ciraldo and utility George Ndaira travelled with the 18-man squad yesterday as insurance.

Newcastle had a ball-work session at ANZ Stadium yesterday afternoon.

Stone said De Gois and Taia, who have missed only one match between them this season, were key figures in his team.

"They're two important players, if you have a look at the stats," Stone said.

"Particularly Zeb. He's our leading tackle breaker, he's our leading off-loader and he's our leading line breaker for the year.

"They are three major stats in the game, so it just goes to show the value that he's been for us this year. It can't be underestimated."

Taia wore strapping and a brace on his right shoulder during tackling drills and convinced himself he could handle whatever the Bulldogs throw at him tonight.

He will don the same protection in the game but said he would not use pain-killing injections.

"It restricted me a bit but I did some contact with the boys who aren't playing and they gave me a good workout so it was good," Taia said.

"It probably limits me a little bit but they're the things you've got to do to play and still keep the shoulder in place."

Taia confirmed he would undergo reconstructive surgery in the off-season, which could rule him out of any involvement in New Zealand's Quad Nations campaign in November, but would "cross that bridge when I come to it".

Bulldogs coach Kevin Moore retained the same 17 beaten 34-12 by Wests Tigers last week but the Knights believe he will start the game by benching Daniel Holdsworth and using David Stagg and Ben Roberts as his halves in the absence of injured Brett Kimmorley.

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