NRL | Knights forward Jacob Saifiti faces "nerve-racking" wait as selection battle heats up

Jacob Saifiti has labelled the Parramatta trial in two weeks as “do-or-die” as he battles to cement a place in the Knights’ squad for the NRL season opener against Manly early next month.

In a sign of just how competitive it has become for places in coach Nathan Brown’s line-up for round one, Saifiti claims he faces a “nerve-racking” few weeks before finding out whether he will get the nod against the Eagles.

And he won’t be alone.

While the make-up of the backline appears cut and died with winger Ken Sio likely to be the unlucky player to miss selection behind Nathan Ross and Shaun Kenny-Dowall, at least a couple of places in the forward rotation appear up for grabs.

At least three or four forwards will consider themselves unlucky after the team is announced.

“It is going to be a nerve-racking couple of weeks but I’m excited more than apprehensive,” Saifiti said before hitting off in the club’s corporate golf day at Newcastle Golf Club on Friday.

“In other years, it has probably been a bit of a walk-up start for most of us but Browny has made it pretty clear and it’s obvious that’s not the case anymore with the guys we have brought in.

“We have so much more depth in the middles with Heigho [Chris Heighington], Jacob Lillyman and big Herman [Ese’ese] coming here along with Aidan Guerra on the edge.

“I was pretty lucky last year because I had a few shockers there but because we didn’t have enough cattle, I kept getting a run.

“But that definitely won’t happen this year. It doesn’t matter who you are.”

Saifiti, whose twin brother Daniel only has to prove his fitness against the Eels to cement a frontrow berth following off-season surgery, says he has no idea whether he also figures in coach Brown’s plans.

“I don’t know where I am in the pecking order to be honest so I’m just ripping in at training and putting my best foot forward to get a start in the team,” he said.

“Round one is going to be interesting. Everyone has trained hard and everyone knows the competition is high so this Parramatta trial is do-or-die really.

“Doing the math, there will be two or three middles that miss out so whatever happens, you can’t sulk. I’ll be going into it to put everything on the line and try and get that round one spot.

“If I am to miss out, I’ll be really disappointed but it’s a good sign for the years ahead for the club. The competition is really high and it says a lot about our squad at the moment. 

“If I go down to the “reggies”, I’ll take it on the chin, put my best foot forward and try and force my way back up. That’s all I can do.”

Saifiti says he has had an incident-free pre-season since returning from his commitments with the Fiji squad in the World Cup late last year.

“The body has been a lot sorer this pre-season but it’s a good sore,”he said.

Brown will name a 19-man squad for trial against Parramatta at Maitland Sportsground on February 24.

Aiming high: Forward Jacob Saifiti says he faces a "nerve-racking" couple of weeks before the NRL season-opener. Picture: Newcastle Knights

Aiming high: Forward Jacob Saifiti says he faces a "nerve-racking" couple of weeks before the NRL season-opener. Picture: Newcastle Knights