Boom rookie Bradman Best has all but locked in the left centre position with new Brisbane Broncos centre recruit Gehamat Shibasaki a potential bolter to win a starting berth for the Knights round one clash against the Warriors in nine weeks time.
By our reckoning, only seven players are currently assured of a place in the top 13 with just over two months remaining of the pre-season.
Barring an injury mishap between now and then, fullback Kalyn Ponga, left winger Edrick Lee, halfback Mitchell Pearce, prop David Klemmer, hooker Jayden Brailey and backrowers Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Mitch Barnett will all run out to face the Warriors at McDonald Jones Stadium on March 14.
Klemmer's State of Origin running mate Daniel Saifiti and Best are also near certain starters while if the squad was named tomorrow, Kurt Mann would be at five-eighth to partner Pearce in the halves and is the clear frontrunner for the position ahead of young playmaker Phoenix Crossland.
Best is just 18 and has only played three NRL games but he has huge potential and has been one of the stars of the pre-season on the training paddock.
But while the left defensive edge of Pearce, Fitzgibbon, Best and Lee is virtually a lock, the club's trials against St George Illawarra and Sydney Roosters next month will decide who features on the right.
Coach Adam O'Brien has a number of contenders for the right centre/wing spots including impressive 21-year-old Shibasaki, new Cowboys recruit Enari Tuala, highly promising Starford To'a and the more senior duo of Hymel Hunt and Tautau Moga.
Moga has played mostly at left centre in the past and will have to swap sides if he is to force his way into the squad.
Hunt prefers centre but has played 13 games on the wing during his career while Shibasaki started nine of his 13 NRL games for Brisbane at centre where he showed some impressive defensive qualities.
To'a's brilliance and athleticism could easily see him win a spot on the right wing after he debuted in the final game of last season against Penrith despite a setback prior to Christmas when he had surgery to repair a broken finger.
With Barnett training at lock and secondrow during the pre-season, there is a suggestion he could start the season in the number 13 jersey, pushing Tim Glasby back to the bench and opening the door for either Aidan Guerra or Sione Mata'utia to start in the backrow on the right edge.
The likes of Moga, Crossland, Jacob Saifiti, Josh King and Mason Lino will all be vying for spots in the top 17 for round one.
Likely Knights team for round 1:
1 Kalyn Ponga, 2 Edrick Lee, 3 Bradman Best, 4 Gehamat Shibasaki, 5 Hymel Hunt, 6 Kurt Mann, 7 Mitchell Pearce, 8 David Klemmer, 9 Jayden Brailey, 10 Daniel Saifiti, 11 Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 12 Aidan Guerra, 13 Mitch Barnett. Bench: Connor Watson, Tim Glasby, Herman Ese'ese, Sione Mata'utia.
By our calculations, the impending departure of Danny Levi to Manly should free up around $260,000 in the Knights salary cap but there is no guarantee the club will spend it all this season.
We're told Levi will be paid by the Knights until the end of January even though he will almost certainly head to the Sea Eagles as early as next week. He will have been paid around $90,000 of his $350,000 contract since November.
As they have done in the past, the club may decided to use a portion of the money they have left in the cap to pre-pay exiting contracts in a bid to free up more money for upgrades next year.
But what Levi's departure will do is open up another spot in the club's top 30 roster, leaving three positions left to fill. Whether coach Adam O'Brien and recruitment boss Alex McKinnon opt to fill them by going into the marketplace or promoting from within prior to June 30 will be wait-and-see.
Backrow remains a position the club wants to strengthen.
Lamb deal close
Maitland Pickers are closing in on a deal to sign former Knight Brock Lamb. We are hearing he has been granted a release from his Parramatta contract to return home.
Knights' auction for fireys
Knights coach Adam O'Brien knows all about the personal heartache associated with the devastating South Coast bushfires.
His home town of Batemans Bay, where his parents and sister still live, was hit hard. He has plenty of close footy mates who were severely affected. So, it's no surprise O'Brien has been a driving force behind the club's push to do their bit to raise money to help out.
"It's hit pretty close to home for me and a few of our staff here as well who have family down south," he said.
"I was back there for Christmas and only left to come back to Newcastle the day before it started so the hardest part was not being there to be able to help."
To that end, the Knights have set up a live auction on their website with all the proceeds going to the Salvation Army Disaster Relief fund.
Among the items is a match-day coaching experience with O'Brien, Kalyn Ponga's World Cup Nines tournament signed jersey and headgear, two of Mitchell Pearce's NSW Origin jerseys signed by the Knights captain and David Klemmer's signed 2018 Kangaroos jersey.
The likes of Tim Glasby, Phoenix Crossland, Pasami Saulo and Beau Fermor have also donated auction items. The auction will remain open for bids until Wednesday, January 15 at 7 pm. Click here to bid.
Knights backrower Aidan Guerra conducted his own auction on Instagram earlier this week, raising more than $11,000 for the cause.
They may now be coaching rivals but that won't affect the friendship that developed between Knights coach Adam O'Brien and Melbourne Storm's Craig Bellamy over the course of the past decade when they were together in Melbourne.
Not even O'Brien linking with Storm arch-rival Sydney Roosters last year affected their personal relationship.
O'Brien and Bellamy and their wives Sharyn and Wendy are close. So much so, the Bellamys were guests of the O'Briens at their Charlestown home for a few days after Chirstmas.
The two coaches were photographed by a fan in deep conversation at Merewether Surfhouse. We're guessing game plans were not on the menu.
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