Nathan Brown’s new-look Newcastle Knights squad will play a closed-door trial against Melbourne Storm in Melbourne next month in the build-up to their NRL premiership opener against Manly on March 9 at McDonald Jones Stadium.
In what shapes as a real first-up litmus test for the Knights, the club will take on the defending premiers at AAMI Park in front of empty stands with Melbourne using the game as a final hit-out before they host English Super League champions Leeds Rhinos in the World Club Challenge at the same venue on February 16.
While some of the Storm’s biggest names, including the likes of Cameron Smith and Billy Slater, are expected to sit out the trial to save themselves for the Rhinos clash, the Knights still expect to face a formidable opponent.
“I don’t think there will be too much publicity about the game because the Storm aren’t opening it up to the public, presumably to keep costs down and keep the focus on the World Club Challenge game,”a Knights insider told the Newcastle Herald.
“We are happy to go along with that. From our point of view, it’s an opportunity for us to travel down there with a squad and work on some new combinations in a game situation because we will have quite a few of those to work on.”
Brown is expected to use the club’s final pre-season trial against Parramatta on February 24, a fortnight after the Storm game, as a full-blown lead-in to the Manly season-opener.
That game will create enormous interest as it marks the official opening of the refurbished Maitland Sportsground and will also feature the much-anticipated return to the Eels of prodigal son Jarryd Hayne.
But with the club boasting a host of new players, headed by a new halves combination in Mitchell Pearce and Connor Watson, Brown is expected to take a near full strength squad south to meet the Storm.
The likes of Pearce, Watson, Jacob Lillyman, Slade Griffin, Aidan Guerra, Herman Ese’ese, Chris Heighington and Kalyn Ponga are all expected to feature for the first time in Knights colours.
But forwards Daniel Saifiti and Mitch Barnett and new Broncos signing Tautau Moga have been part of the rehab squad over the past few months following off-season surgery and it is still unclear what part they will play during the trials.
“They are at different stages of their progression and whether they are fit for the first game against Melbourne I’m not too sure. But I’d imagine all should be right for at least the Parramatta game,”coach Nathan Brown said.
“In the end though, we will be guided by the medical staff on that front so we’ll wait and see.”
Whether they are fit for the first game against Melbourne I’m not too sure.Nathan Brown