Newcastle coach Nathan Brown is set to unveil a completely new-look spine in a closed trial against Melbourne at AAMI Park with former Storm utility Slade Griffin edging out Danny Levi for the starting hooker role.
The Knights will trial an extended squad of 25 players in Melbourne on Wednesday with Brown tipped to run his strongest available 17 in the opening 30 or 40 minutes.
In a clear sign Griffin has his nose in front of Kiwi World Cup hooker Levi for the starting role in the NRL season opener against Manly early next month, Griffin will run out in the first half against his old club alongside new halves pairing Mitchell Pearce and Connor Watson with another new recruit, Kalyn Ponga to debut for the Knights at fullback.
Griffin, Cameron Smith’s understudy at the Storm, has had an impressive pre-season and has clearly been rewarded by the coach.
It is understood Levi will be thrown into the game in the second half alongside young halves Brock Lamb and Jack Cogger.
Asked were there still positions up for grabs for the Manly game leading into the club’s first trial, Brown said a player exodus had left the club in a unique situation.
“We have had a huge turnover of personnel and probably have a number of experienced players who wouldn’t normally trial this early in the year,”he said.
“But for us, it is really important to try and build some combinations and while you always feel like you are making progress at training, there is nothing like playing.
“We are in a unique situation. With Trent [Hodkinson] going, we now have 22 players from last season gone.
“In our starting first-up team, we have a new hooker, a new half, a new five-eighth and a new fullback.
“Most clubs might have a new half or five-eighth but we might have four depending on what happens with Danny.
“With four new ones in those positions, we are in a very different spot to most other clubs.”
Brown said the majority of the squad would play for 30 or 40 minutes with everyone looking to impress leading into the February 24 trial against Parramatta at Maitland.
“It’s the first trial so everyone’s eager for a game and obviously a lot of players are looking to impress,”he said.
“Over the next three weeks, we are going to face Melbourne and Parramatta, two sides that finished in the top four last year, so that will give us an indication of where we are at.”
Storm will be without World Cup stars Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Will Chambers but Brown is confident it will prove to be the ideal hit-out for his new look squad.
“They will put out a very formidable side and you know that whoever they put out, they are going to be match-hardened,” he said.
“We wanted two trials against clubs that over the past 12 months have proven very hard to beat and this one is ideal for us.”
Key forwards Mitch Barnett and Daniel Saifiti and new centre recruit Tautau Moga did not make the trip to Melbourne but should all play against the Eels.