NRL | Rookie Knights hooker Tom Starling cleared to make his NRL debut against the Dragons on Saturday at McDonald Jones Stadium

Cleared: Rookie hooker Tom Starling has been given the all clear by the NRL to debut against the Dragons.
Cleared: Rookie hooker Tom Starling has been given the all clear by the NRL to debut against the Dragons.

A showdown between the Knights and the NRL over the eligibility of rookie Tom Starling was avoided yesterday when the 20-year-old hooker was given the green light to make his top grade debut against St George Illawarra on Saturday at McDonald Jones Stadium.

Knights officials were preparing to go strongly into bat for Starling’s inclusion if the NRL denied the club’s submission for him to debut because he is a development player and not in their top 30-man squad.

But according to coach Nathan Brown, the NRL took the “commonsense” approach to the club’s request given the injury toll and the lack of a recognised back up hooker.

“Tommy’s a young Central Coast boy who is certainly not the biggest in stature but his heart’s big and he’s a great competitor,” Brown said.

“He’s good out of dummy half and he’s certainly earned his opportunity and we thought it was a fitting time.

“It’s a home game, Old Boys’ Day, he’s a local kid and obviously, hooker is a spot with the Slade [Griffin] situation, we are looking at going forward.

“He’s been cleared which we are very grateful of and I think more than anyone else, Tommy and his family is probably more grateful.

“It gives us a recognised dummy half on the bench to come on and support Danny.” 

Meanwhile, Brown revealed the club decided against risking chronic injury by making the decision not to play Kalyn Ponga in the final round game against the Dragons.

"He could've probably played, but there is a risk if he keeps playing," Brown said.

"That's what we got told last week.

"He got put in the boot again this week and all the reports were he is going to be fine and recover.

“But if you keep pushing him, it could end up getting a lot worse."

Brown said the club needed to take a long-term view.

"As much as we all want him to play and he would love to play, he is obviously a high-quality, high-end player that we feel can take the club to where we need to get to," Brown said.

"And we don't want to give him any chronic injury problems at such a young age."

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