COUNTRY Origin back-rower Robbie Rochow could miss just a handful of games for the Knights after postponing surgery on a bulging disc in his lower back.
Rochow suffered back spasms while warming up before Newcastle’s game against Penrith at Hunter Stadium last Saturday and sat out their 26-14 win over the Panthers, which took the Knights to the outright lead as the NRL’s only unbeaten team.
The 24-year-old workhorse, who had played 62 straight games since making his Knights debut in July 2012, was expected to be sidelined for six to eight weeks if he proceeded with surgery this week to shave the swollen disc.
But there is a chance Rochow could be back within a fortnight after seeing a specialist on Monday and deciding to treat the injury conservatively. He is scheduled to have a cortisone injection on Wednesday to help reduce the inflammation.
Depending on how he responds to that treatment, Rochow could be available to return against Cronulla at Shark Park on Friday of next week, or the home game against the Eels on April 19.
Coach Rick Stone has replaced Rochow with Tariq Sims for Newcastle’s game against the Dragons at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night.
‘‘Robbie has seen a specialist and his back may be not quite as bad as what we thought,’’ Stone said after training on Tuesday.
‘‘We’re going to try to manage him over the next couple of weeks and see if we can get some more games out of him possibly for the rest of the year rather than having surgery, but we’ll assess that as we go along in the next few weeks. ... We’ll go down that path before we step down the surgery path.’’
Utility forward Chris Houston, who replaced Rochow against Penrith and scored a try, made 52 tackles, six tackle breaks and ran 12 times for 95 metres, will return to a five-man bench against the Dragons to make way for Sims.
Stone said NSW winger James McManus, who missed the victory over the Panthers because of an infected eye socket, will return against the Dragons.
Utility back Sione Mata’utia was named on the extended bench and is likely to resume his role replacing Kurt Gidley at fullback while the captain pushes forward to give hooker Adam Clydsdale a break.
‘‘His eye has gone down significantly,’’ Stone said of McManus. ‘‘The antibiotics are on top of the infection there, so he’s expected to come straight back on the wing this weekend.’’
The Knights and Dragons will play for the Alex McKinnon Cup for the first time. The trophy has been struck as a tribute to the injured former Country Origin forward who represented both clubs during his 49-game NRL career.
Stone hoped the Knights play better against the Dragons than they did in a disappointing 22-8 loss to the Titans in the NRL’s ‘‘Rise for Alex’’ round last July.
‘‘I think there’s been a little bit more space put between Alex’s injury and the present time, and I think that will help,’’ the coach said.
‘‘Hopefully they’ve composed their emotions a little bit more than when it was still a little bit fresh in the ‘Rise for Alex’ round last year.
‘‘We disappointed ourselves and we disappointed our fans, so it’s definitely one we want to make up to them, and make up to Alex, actually.’’
Meanwhile, Stone said back-rower Beau Scott had not indicated he wanted to activate the get-out clause in his contract and leave the Knights on compassionate grounds, and that negotiations with off-contract centre Dane Gagai were ongoing.
Scott is contracted until the end of 2017 but is reportedly considering leaving at the end of this season because of undisclosed personal reasons. The NSW and Australian enforcer has been linked to the Broncos, Tigers and former club St George Illawarra.
The Broncos and Titans are two of several clubs chasing Gagai, but the Knights are determined to keep the Queensland Origin hopeful and have reportedly tabled an offer for a two-year deal worth $575,000 a season.