New custodian David Simmons coming in for Kearney and unpredictable flankers Luke Covell and Misi Taulapapa were all singled out by Newcastle coach Brain Smith as possible targets in the Sharks defence, with in-form Knights no.7 Mullen expected to give them a torrid time with kicks.
Simmons gets his chance to prove his worth in the custodian role, after the dynamic but fragile Brett Kearney copped another serious injury, this time his ankle in the ugly first up win over the Panthers, Taulapapa and the in-experienced Blake Ferguson both having plenty of problems defusing bombs when the stood in for Kearney late in last weeks game.
“Simmons hasn’t been there in the last couple of seasons and kicking-wise I think that will be an important aspect for us to try and find out how good he is at a fullback position,” Smith said.
“I’ve got a high regard for Dave Simmons, I think he’s quite a good player, but he hasn’t played a lot there in the last couple of years.
“It’s a tough position to play at any time, there’s not a fullback in the game that doesn’t make errors, but it becomes doubly difficult, maybe even more than that, if you haven’t had a lot of practice at it.
“They’re missing a key player in Brett Kearney and I think it will be important for us to make sure we test out that.
“It’s not just the fullback, it’s the combination with the fullback and the wingers that you lack when a guy hasn’t been there before.
“The last plays for us and the kicking aspect of our game is going to be vital this week.”
For the Knights this week, their training has been highly focused on re-hydrating – after their game in last weeks searing Gold Coast heat took its toll.
But the Sharks have also had their own problems to endure, Kearney’s injury and the season ending nightmare for prop Ben Ross were the initial setbacks and now with a club-imposed 2 match ban for no.7 Brett Seymour after his drunken escapade soon after.
Blake Green gets his first real chance in the starting lineup and another former Parramatta player in Jack Afamasaga will get the last interchange spot after Jacob Selmes turned out for the club’s NSW Cup side on Saturday.
“Due to injury and a few other circumstances we’re missing a few, but we haven’t brought anyone in out of our top 25,” Sharks assistant coach Shane Flanagan said.
“We’ve got some blokes there that we knew were going to play some first grade at some stage, it’s just come a little bit early.”