HE is Newcastle’s smallest player, and livewire utility Connor Watson expects to be targeted in defence by Canberra’s heavyweights during Sunday’s showdown at GIO Stadium.
One of four former Roosters to join the Knights in the off-season, Watson has been named to start his second successive match at five-eighth, but the selection of Brock Lamb on Newcastle’s bench ensures they are likely to again share the pivot role.
In last week’s 19-18 win against Manly, Watson deputised as a stopgap dummy-half during Slade Griffin’s 11-minute breather in the second half, which meant he had to defend in the middle of the ruck.
At 176 centimeteres and 87 kilograms, he will be dwarfed on Sunday by Raiders front-rowers Shannon Boyd and Junior Paulo, who each outweigh him by more than 30 kilograms.
Given that he missed six of the 22 tackles he attempted against Manly, Watson’s name is likely to feature prominently in Canberra’s game plan.
But the 21-year-old has no qualms about competing outside his weight division.
“Being a little bloke, you have to make most of tackles because they see the height difference in the line and run at you,” Watson said on Thursday. “Every time I’ve played hooker, I’ve been run at a fair bit. But it’s NRL, it’s first grade.
“You can’t really hide out there in any position. Whether you’re playing [hooker] or on the wing, you’re still going to have to make tackles.”
Watson said that in some regards, he found it easier dealing with the heavy traffic he will encounter around the rucks.
“Defending in the middle is not too bad, because you’re defending with other people,” he said. “You defend as a group, whereas if you defend on the edge, you have to make a lot of one-on-one tackles, which is a bit harder.
“So when those big blokes are coming at you, you’ve got a bloke either side of you, coming to help.
“That helps being at [hooker].”
Watson was promised first shot at the five-eighth role when he signed for Newcastle but it now appears he might be asked to fill a variety of positions, as was the case during his 38 games with the Roosters.
As well as his brief stint at hooker against Manly, he also filled in at centre when Sione Mata’utia suffered cramp.
“I’m starting there [at five-eighth], and that’s what I wanted to do, is start in that jumper,” he said. “But for the team’s sake, if I need to move into [hooker] for a period of time, well I’m happy to do that.”
Knights coach Nathan Brown was unsure if Lamb would receive more game time this week, after a 23-minute cameo against Manly.
But he was pleased with how Lamb, Watson and skipper Mitchell Pearce combined when they were on the field together.
“I’m not sure if we got it perfect when we used him [Lamb] or not, and just because we won the game, I don’t think that highlights whether we did or didn’t,” he said. “But he certainly was good when he was out there.
“Connor certainly did well when he was there. He’s a very different player [to Lamb], obviously … in an ideal world, a little bit more time [for Lamb] would probably be perfect.
“How it unfolds, I’m not too sure.
“But Brock on the field and Connor on the field, those guys all on there together, certainly seems to make us a formidable team.”
Meanwhile, rugged back-rower Luke Yates appears the likely candidate to come onto Newcastle’s bench rotation if co-captain Jamie Buhrer is ruled out.
Brown said Buhrer suffered “a knock” against Manly, although he was hopeful of making the trip to Canberra.
Yates appeared to be on standby at training on Thursday.
The 23-year-old local junior, who played in 19 NRL games for Newcastle last season, has been named in jumper No.21 but it would be no surprise if he featured in the game-day 17.
The Knights will train again on Saturday before boarding a chartered flight to the national capital.