ROCKHAMPTON rookie Matt Minto is poised to make his NRL debut for the Knights against Canberra at Hunter Stadium on Sunday night.
The 23-year-old utility back is in the mix to start at fullback, which would allow captain Kurt Gidley to return to the dummy-half role he has spent the pre-season preparing to play and would push former Raiders rake Travis Waddell back to the bench.
Minto spent time at fullback during the Knights' ball-work session at Mayfield yesterday, but coach Wayne Bennett, who included Minto on a six-man bench when he named a 19-man squad on Tuesday, is not expected to settle on his 17 until the final training run tomorrow.
Bennett is also awaiting medical clearances for Gidley and halfback Tyrone Roberts, though both are likely to play after passing CogSport brain-function tests on Tuesday.
Gidley suffered concussion and was replaced in the 36th minute of Newcastle's 30-8 loss to Penrith at Sportingbet Stadium on Saturday.
Roberts followed Gidley to the sideline in the 63rd minute after colliding with Panthers lock Adam Docker in the lead-up to Docker's try. Though Roberts needed stitches for a cut ear, it is understood he was dazed but not knocked out and has shown no symptoms of concussion.
Minto is the nephew of Scott Minto, who played under Bennett at the Broncos. Comfortable at fullback or halfback, Minto spent time in the lower grades at Canterbury and North Queensland as a teenager.
He kicked a decisive field goal in the dying stages of the Queensland Cup grand final last year, helping Mackay secure a 27-20 victory over Easts, and signed a one-year deal with the Knights after impressing during pre-season training and trials.
Minto came off the bench in Newcastle’s 52-12 victory over the First Nation Goannas, scoring a try and setting up several others, and was in line to play in the Knights’ Auckland Nines squad but was ruled out due to a hamstring strain.
Teenage fullback or winger Jake Mamo scored three tries but suffered a knee injury in Newcastle’s 34-22 National Youth Cup victory over Penrith on Saturday.
The 19-year-old took another knock to the knee at training yesterday, ruling him out of contention for the game against the Raiders.
If Waddell drops back to the bench, Bennett would have to decide between props Adam Cuthbertson and David Fa’alogo to fill the final interchange position alongside utility forwards Alex McKinnon and Chris Houston.
Prop Kade Snowden said the Knights had to deal with the loss of playmakers Jarrod Mullen and Darius Boyd, who have both been sidelined with hamstring injuries, and had faith in Roberts, five-eighth Michael Dobson and whoever plays fullback and hooker.
‘‘We’re still really confident with the boys that are there now,’’ Snowden said. ‘‘They are big losses for any side, but we’re ready to go and the young fellas that fill in, they’re pumped.’’
Having sat out Newcastle’s last five games of last season serving a suspension, Snowden missed much of the team’s pre-season training after suffering a knee playing for Italy in the World Cup. He made 39 tackles and ran nine times for 85 metres in 48 minutes against Penrith, according to NRL Stats, and hopes to increase his time and contribution on Sunday.
‘‘I’m getting there. I just need a bit more fitness,’’ he said.
‘‘I did my knee at the World Cup, so it’s hard missing a whole pre-season and coming back straight into it, but I got some good minutes last week so I just need to keep building on it.’’
McKinnon, who spent time in the forwards, centre and five-eighth on Saturday to help cover the loss of Boyd, Gidley and Roberts, said the Knights had put their disjointed, mistake-riddled performance against the Panthers behind them.
‘‘We’ve got a lot of confidence in our team, and I suppose that was just a little hiccup in our start to the season, but we’re really looking forward to this weekend,’’ McKinnon said.
‘‘We always get a great crowd and we’ve got great supporters at the Knights. It’s round two and we need to start putting a few points on the board.’’