Knights coach Adam O'Brien has left the door open for some selection surprises ahead the club's NRL premiership opener against the Warriors next month after declaring his squad is "far from settled" heading into trials against St George Illawarra and Sydney Roosters in the next fortnight.
The Knights take on the Dragons at Maitland on Saturday before backing up against the Roosters a week later in Gosford. O'Brien has indicating the bulk of the squad [to be named today] will get at least some game time in the top grade.
Big names including the likes of skipper Mitchell Pearce, State of Origin props David Klemmer and Daniel Saifiti and new hooker Jayden Brailey will only play around 30 minutes against the Dragons before potentially having larger stints in the Roosters trial.
O'Brien is giving little away about the possible make-up of the team for round one but it's likely as many as five spots in the 17-man squad will come under the microscope during the trials.
While the NRL Nines is not a true guide, fringe players such as five-eighth Mason Lino, who was named in the team of the tournament, and prop Jacob Saifiti only enhanced their reputations with strong performances in front of the coach.
"We are not a finished product by any means and everyone still needs to keep working hard," O'Brien told the Newcastle Herald.
"There is certainly some healthy competition for spots and I'm far from settled on the make-up of the side yet. We've got some depth and you want blokes fighting for spots and that's what we've got heading into the trials so I really like that."
Among the most talked-about positions are the backrow, five-eighth, centre and at least two bench spots.
While the starting frontrow is virtually set in stone and backrower Lachlan Fitzgibbon is odds on to feature on the left edge, there is conjecture over who will start on the right edge and at lock.
A lot will hinge on where O'Brien opts to play Mitch Barnett.
The reigning Danny Buderus Medalist, who traveled to Perth with the Nines squad essentially to make up the numbers and did not play, has featured mainly in the backrow for the club.
But there is a strong feeling the team may be better served with him as a middle forward and he has largely trained at lock during the pre-season. That could open the door for either veteran Aidan Guerra or versatile Sione Mata'utia to start on the right edge.
Young former Broncos recruit Gehamat Shibasaki is favoured to fill the right centre spot inside Hymel Hunt on the wing but he'll still need strong trial form to cement his position.
The five-eighth spot it Kurt Mann's to lose in the trials after a strong pre-season alongside Pearce in the halves but Lino's Nines form ensures Mann can't affort to get complacent.
Pearce said the players in the Nines squad had returned to training with "a spring in their step" and everyone was looking forward to the trials kicking off.
"We have worked hard and I know that we'll compete hard and that's what I'm excited about," Pearce said.
"If you do that well, firstly this week and then the next trial and into round one, you give yourself a good chance of building some momentum."
Asked about his likely halves partner, Pearce again intimated Mann is the frontrunner but pointed out the length of the season meant there would be opportunities for everyone in the squad.
"Kurt's training there and he's been training there most of the pre-season and doing a great job and Mace played really well in the Nines," Pearce said. "I'm sure there will be some combos swapping and changing this week and there are obviously plenty of positions up for grabs.
"I've talked up Kurt because he has been training great and has been a real standout and has evolved heaps over the pre-season. But it's a long year. You have a big squad for a reason and we're going to be using all that squad I'm sure over the course of the season."
Meanwhile, Pearce backed the club's push to sign Dragons star Tyson Frizell. "All I can say on that is 'it's a great club Tyson and I'd love to have you here mate'."
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