Newcastle playmaker Brock Lamb remains firmly in the club’s long-term plans despite being dumped from the Knights squad to meet Wests Tigers in Tamworth on Saturday.
A fortnight after senior players intervened to save him from the axe following the side’s big loss to St George Illawarra in Wollongong, coach Nathan Brown’s patience in his young playmaker has finally run out with Lamb given the chop for the Tigers clash.
Close mate Jack Cogger, who is Bulldogs-bound at the end of the season, has been promoted to partner Mitchell Pearce in the halves for the first time this season.
They will have the task of trying to keep in-form Tigers playmakers Benji Marshall and Luke Brooks in check.
Lamb’s defence has come under plenty of scrutiny since he replaced the injured Connor Watson in the starting side three weeks ago with rival teams reaping some rewards after targeting his right edge.
Brown admits Lamb will go back to NSW Cup with “a couple things he needs to work on”.
“I won’t go into what they are publicly but Brock is well aware of the areas that he needs to improve on,” Brown said.
“He is obviously a very talented young player but the ball is in his court as to how he addresses those issues.”
Brown said Cogger deserves his opportunity in the top grade despite his decision to leave the club at the end of the season after signing with the Bulldogs.
“Jack trained great in the pre-season and one of the reasons why we didn’t grant him an early release to the Bulldogs is because we knew he would get an opportunity here this season at some stage,” Brown said.
“He started the season really strongly but his form has probably suffered a little bit in some well-beaten sides in recent weeks in reserve grade.
“But he is a great competitor Jack and I’m really confident he will play well for us against the Tigers.
“It will be a good test for him. Benji and young Luke Brooks have been going really well in a team that’s travelling really good at present.”
Knights head of football Darren Mooney told the Newcastle Herald that Lamb’s demotion would have no bearing on the club’s willingness to re-sign him long-term with the Maitland junior off contract at the end of the season.
“We’ve publicly made it known we want Brock to stay at the club beyond this season and the fact he’s playing NSW Cup this weekend has no bearing on that,” Mooney said.
“The coaching staff obviously believe he is down a bit on confidence and probably not enjoying himself as much as he should be so have taken the pressure off him by putting him back in NSW Cup.
“It is not unlike what happened to Brock last season when Browny put him back for a stint in NSW Cup to work on a few areas of his game.
“He regained his confidence and won his way back into the top grade and we won some games at the back-end of the season off the back of what he provided for us.
“Fans shouldn’t forget he only turned 21 a few months ago and his role in the team is a little different to what it was last season.
“He needs to be given time to really develop.”
As expected, backrower Mitch Barnett returns to the squad after missing the big loss to the Storm in Melbourne through suspension.
He has been named in the starting side at 13 with prop Daniel Saifiti missing out on inclusion in the 17-man squad.
Saifiti had just three carries in the Melbourne game for 27 metres, the same stats as his starting frontrow partner Jacob Lillyman.
Brown was giving little away about whether Saifiti could get a late reprieve given he played strongly the previous week in the win over Brisbane Broncos.
“The stats against a very good Melbourne forward pack probably don’t paint a fair picture,” Brown said.
“They had the majority of ball in that first half and the starting props did plenty of defensive work as a result of that.
“I think Daniel only had one carry in the opening 25 minutes which tells the story.”
Veteran forward Chris Heighington was again named on the bench and appears certain to feature against his former club.
The Tigers will be without backrower Chris Lawrence and interchange utility Josh Reynolds due to injury but have Elijah Taylor returning.
Tamworth’s Scully Park is a sell-out for the game.
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