THE welfare of Knights co-captain Sione Mata’utia is again causing concern after he was replaced with concussion in Saturday’s 44-12 loss to Melbourne at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Mata’utia was helped from the field in the 29th minute for a head-injury assessment and did not return.
It was his third such episode this season, after incidents in round three against South Sydney and round five against Cronulla.
Mata’utia was also concussed twice last season and, after being advised to stand down for a game in August last year, he told the Newcastle Herald: "I have had two major head knocks and the doctors are being very precautionary with myself being so young ... having so many knocks is why they were a bit worried."
Knights coach Nathan Brown said the 21-year-old, who has played in every game this season, would undergo the usual assessments this week to determine if he is fit for Friday’s penultimate-round clash with Canberra in the national capital.
“We’ll have to go through the processes to see if he’ll be fit next week,’’ Brown said.
“Any time anyone’s getting a head knock, with where things are at these days, it’s a concern.
“Sione’s been and had all the right tests after his last [concussion] and been cleared of any worry at all.
“So that’s all we can do, is do that and go through the process. But anyone who’s been concussed on a number of occasions, it’s always some sort of concern.’’
"Anyone who’s been concussed on a number of occasions, it’s always some sort of concern.’’- NATHAN BROWN
Concussion is an issue that has continued to hang over Newcastle’s season like a black cloud.
Former Knights winger James McManus announced in February he had launched landmark law suit against the club for alleged mistreatment after a series of career-ending head knocks.
Newcastle were then fined $50,000 by the NRL in March after fullback Brendan Elliot was allowed to remain on the field when he was dazed by a brutal high shot from South Sydney’s Hymel Hunt.
Brown said after the loss to Melbourne that “we’ve got a few blokes in there today that are a bit wounded”, in particular five-eighth Brock Lamb, who bravely soldiered on for almost 50 minutes after suffering a knee injury in the 18th minute.
“I’m guessing he’s got a grade-two medial, so that might be the end of him for the year,’’ Brown said.
If so, it would be a blow to Newcastle’s hopes of avoiding the wooden spoon, a task that will require them winning at least one of their remaining two games.
“It’s unfortunate if he [Lamb] misses the next two games but as long as it’s not anything major, he can have a really good pre-season,’’ Brown said.
“That would be the key for Brock. He’s certainly put his hand up and shown that he’s got the talent to move forward, so that’s pleasing.”
Brown said if, as expected, Lamb was sidelined, 20-year-old playmaker Jack Cogger was his most likely replacement. Cogger played in six NRL games last season but has not been required in the top grade this year.
The other possible option would be Jaelen Feeney, who played eight consecutive games as halfback earlier in the season.
Adding to Newcastle’s woes, key 2018 signing Kalyn Ponga suffered a shoulder injury in North Queensland’s loss to Cronulla in Townsville on Saturday.
The Knights will be desperately hoping it is not a major problem.