THE Knights did what they could to shield rookie winger Jake Mamo from the spotlight in the lead-up to his NRL debut against Brisbane at Hunter Stadium tonight.
Typically, coach Wayne Bennett did not name the 19-year-old Gosford junior in the team he announced on Tuesday. Bennett instead selected Italian World Cup representative Josh Mantellato to replace injured former NSW and Australian flyer Aku Uate (knee).
But Mamo, not Mantellato, trained outside centre Dane Gagai on the right wing at the final ball-work run at Mayfield yesterday.
Mantellato, who made his NRL debut against Souths last season, was a ruse.
Second-rower Beau Scott played a straight bat when asked about Mamo yesterday.
‘‘He trained today, but I think you’ll have to check with the coach actually, if he’s going to play, but whoever it is, they’re very capable in their position,’’ Scott said.
But in a clear sign Mamo will become the 249th player to represent the Knights, Bennett and the players formed a huddle near the goalposts at the southern end of the field at the end of training and clapped and cheered and sprayed him with water.
The informal initiation ceremony was performed in full view of the media, and supporters attending a club fan day, as the players welcomed a new teammate to first grade.
Powerfully built and lightning fast, Mamo has been one of the stars of Newcastle’s unbeaten National Youth Cup team, scoring three tries in each of their first two games.
He bagged another treble in the Knights’ 52-12 victory over the First Nation Goannas non-elite indigenous team in a pre-season trial at Hunter Stadium on February 8 then continued to impress in the club’s Auckland Nines campaign at Eden Park a week later.
‘‘Jake’s one of three boys in the under20s that trained with us all pre-season, and I think we’ve all seen what he’s got as well tonight, so it will all be a process from here when the time’s right,’’ Bennett said on the night of the Goannas trial.
Mamo was the NYC Players’ Player of the Year last season and won the coveted Andrew Johns-Carlson Club Medal in 2012 as the Knights’ best under-17 player.
The Knights will be without prop Kade Snowden tonight after he was knocked out midway through the second half of Newcastle’s 26-12 victory in Canberra on Saturday.
Knights high-performance manager Jeremy Hickmans said Snowden had passed a CogSport brain function test but the club sent him to their neurological specialists at the John Hunter Hospital, as they do with all players who suffer concussion, and they ruled him out.
Adam Cuthbertson trained in Snowden’s place yesterday but is likely to come off the bench tonight. Zane Tetevano is expected to be promoted to take Snowden’s spot in the run-on side.
Captain Kurt Gidley, who suffered a head knock and two facial cuts against the Raiders, has been cleared to take his place at hooker.
‘‘We’ve nearly got the same side as last week, minus Kade, but we’re feeling good and we’ve taken a lot of confidence out of last week,’’ Scott said.
‘‘Zane’s solid, and we’re happy to have him in the starting team.’’
Scott said he was pleased with his own form and was keen to play State of Origin again if NSW coach Laurie Daley saw fit to pick him.
But he was focused only on playing consistently for the Knights and contributing to a victory over the Broncos.
‘‘It wasn’t a very pretty week following that loss [to the Cowboys last week].’’ he said.
‘‘We had to turn it around in Canberra, which we did, and we’ve just got to back it up [tonight] now – that’s what it comes back to.
‘‘They [Brisbane] start well, they start fast, so we’ll just have to match them in that department and play the whole 80 minutes.’’
Former Brisbane skipper Sam Thaiday did not complete training yesterday due to a calf injury and, though the Broncos said he would take his place in an unchanged side, there were reports last night that he would be ruled out.