Newcastle Knights coach Nathan Brown set to produce round-one selection shock by omitting Kiwi Test hooker Danny Levi.

KNIGHTS coach Nathan Brown is poised to produce his first selection shock of the 2018 season by omitting incumbent New Zealand Test hooker Danny Levi from the team to face Manly at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday.

SURPRISE: Danny Levi

SURPRISE: Danny Levi

Brown will name his squad on Tuesday, but judging by Newcastle’s ball-work session on Monday, Levi will be lining up in the NSW Cup curtain-raiser against the Sea Eagles.

New signing Slade Griffin, a premiership winner with Melbourne Storm last season, is certain to start the year as Newcastle’s first-choice No.9. Levi was expected to tag-team with Griffin but it now appears Brown has other plans.

Newcastle co-captain Jamie Buhrer is also a capable hooker, while high-profile import Connor Watson spent his share of time as a stopgap dummy-half with his former club, Sydney Roosters.

The presence of Brock Lamb training in Newcastle’s No.1 squad would indicate he could be a surprise inclusion against Manly.

Whether Lamb was named on the bench or in the starting line-up, ahead of Watson, it would provide Brown with extra flexibility and options, especially if Newcastle happened to suffer any injuries in the backline.

Lamb, who played in 21 NRL games last season and is one of Newcastle’s brightest prospects, had been expected to start the season in reserve grade. But it is understood that after a strong pre-season he is in contention for round one.

Omitting Levi would rate as one of the toughest selection decisions Brown has faced since taking charge of Newcastle in late 2015.

Last season Levi was one of only two Newcastle players to appear in all 24 games, and he made more tackles than any of his teammates.

He was rewarded with a two-year contract extension, taking him through until the end of 2020, and selection in New Zealand’s squad at the end-of-season World Cup.

He played four Tests at the tournament and, having recently turned 22, was viewed as someone who would become a long-term fixture for the Kiwis.

It now appears he will have to wait until at least round two to celebrate his half-century of NRL games. He finished last season with 49 to his name. 

Meanwhile, Knights officials are hoping for a crowd approaching 25,000 on Friday night.

New recruit Aidan Guerra said his teammates would be striving to “do the Newcastle public proud”.

For as many as nine of Newcastle’s players, it will be their first game at McDonald Jones Stadium in the home team’s colours.

Guerra, who visited Newcastle four times during his eight-season stint with the Roosters, was looking forward to having the Novocastrain faithful on his side.

“That’s definitely going to be a factor,” he said.

“I’ve played here when they were cheering for the Knights and I was playing for the Roosters. It’s certainly a bit of a hostile environment. 

“I don’t know if the team fed off the crowd, but every time we came here we knew we were up for a tough one.

“So I’m looking forward to getting on the good side of those cheers and feeding off a bit of that momentum.”

Manly winger Akuila Uate, who will play in Newcastle for the first time since he left the Knights to join the Sea Eagles last season, said he was not expecting a warm welcome.

“I’ll cop it when I run out for the warm-up, but that’s how it is,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to going up there and playing. I’ve been playing up there for ages now and I’m used to the crowd. It’s all good.”

Meanwhile, Knights centre Tautau Moga believes he will be better for the run after returning from a shoulder reconstruction in Newcastle’s 26-6 trial defeat by Parramatta at Maitland.

“I was just happy to get get out there and blow the cobwebs,” he said.

“I just wanted to get a game under my belt before round one. Obviously with the new team, we're just trying to get the combos right.”

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