NRL | Knights apply to the NRL for dispensation so that young hooker Tom Starling can debut against St George Illawarra on Saturday

Youngster Tom Starling was given the thrill of his career on Tuesday.

Knights coach Nathan Brown told him he would be named to make his top grade debut against St George Illawarra on Old Boys’ Day at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday.

But it came with a proviso. The 20-year-old hooker has to first be cleared to play by the NRL.

Starling’s debut off the bench against the Dragons is under a cloud because he is classed as a development player and not in the club’s 30-man squad.

The Knights made application late yesterday for the young hooker to be given dispensation due to the club’s lengthy injury toll.

Rookie: Hooker Tom Starling [left] is poised to make his NRL debut off the bench on Saturday against the St George Illawarra Dragons.

Rookie: Hooker Tom Starling [left] is poised to make his NRL debut off the bench on Saturday against the St George Illawarra Dragons.

They will know on Wednesday if they have been successful.

A spokesman for the NRL told the Newcastle Herald there have been a number of instances this season where clubs have been given the green light to play development players. But there have also been knock-backs.

“It depends on the circumstances and there is an application process to follow,” he said.

Starling’s call-up came largely out of the blue after regular back-up hooker Jamie Buhrer was chosen in the backrow as a replacement for regular starter Lachlan Fitzgibbon.

Fitzgibbon was badly concussed in a friendly fire incident involving teammate Josh King in the first half against Cronulla on Sunday and had no memory of his on-field stint after the game.

As a result, the club opted to err on the side of caution and rest him for the final round clash with the Dragons.

In a further change, Connor Watson is also out of the game as expected after re-tearing his groin against the Sharks with Bulldogs-bound Jack Cogger to get a farewell game in the halves alongside Mitchell Pearce before his departure.

Speculation on Monday Kalyn Ponga could be a surprise inclusion for the Dragons game, despite missing the Sharks clash and spending most of last week in a moon boot, proved to be unfounded with the star fullback not even named in the club’s 21-man squad.

Brown named retiring props Chris Heighington and Jacob Lillyman on the bench for what will be their last game in the NRL after lengthy careers. 

The Dragons have lost centre Euan Aitken with a hamstring injury with exciting youngster Zac Lomax called up by coach Paul McGregor as his replacement.

Retiring veteran Jason Nightingale has played his last NRL game because of injury with Matt Dufty to start at fullback.

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