Injury-plagued Knights centre Tautau Moga has been put in cotton wool following the loss of teenage star Bradman Best and will miss Saturday's trial against St George Illawarra at Maitland to ensure he is fully recovered from a hamstring strain.
With Best to undergo surgery for a fractured foot that is set to sideline him for several weeks, Knights coach Adam O'Brien and his medical staff are understandably taking no chances with Moga's return.
Provided he proves his fitness before then, he is the logical replacement for Best at left centre for the season-opener against the Warriors in three weeks time.
He has been given the extra week off as a precaution and it's expected he will play in the club's final trial against the Sydney Roosters on Saturday week in Gosford to build up his confidence before the Warriors clash on March 14.
After battling back from a fourth knee reconstruction that restricted him to just six NRL games last season, Moga had been "flying" in pre-season training until his latest injury setback.
He felt a hamstring twinge a few weeks ago which put an immediate halt to his progress and left him behind the eight ball on the selection front with Best and new recruit Gehamat Shibasaki already penciled in for the first round centre spots.
But that all changes now with Best unavailable. Provided they get through the trials unscathed, Shibasaki will still fill the right centre spot alongside winger Hymel Hunt with Edrick Lee set to team up again on the left with Moga.
Prior to Best breaking a bone in his foot, O'Brien told the Newcastle Herald that Moga would have played in the Nines had he not picked up the hamstring injury and was disappointed his towering centre had been sidelined again.
"It was really bad luck for him because he had been flying at training," O'Brien said at the time. "He was becoming more and more confident with his knee.
"He was definitely going to feature at the Nines but given his history, we're not going to take any risks with him. We'll be looking to give him some game time in the Dragons trial and see what happens from there."
But Best's surgery immediately forced a re-think.
"We are taking a cautionary approach with Tau now," O'Brien said on Wednesday when asked why he was left out of the squad for the Dragons.
O'Brien has plenty of empathy for what Moga has already gone through during his career because he knows better than most the physical and emotional strength required to return from such injuries.
"I had two knee reconstructions when I was playing so I can only admire the way Tau has managed to fight his way back from four," the coach said.
"He had a really good season at the Broncos a few years back so we know what he is capable of. And when I sat down with him when I first arrived at the club, he told me he is really confident and determined to get back to that sort of form."
Moga is off contract at the end of the year and his future in the NRL virtually all hinges on the form he produces on the field this season.
In 2017 at the Brisbane Broncos before he was lured to the Knights, Moga was one of the form centres in the game, featuring in all 27 games for the club.
But in two seasons at the Knights, he has made just 10 appearances.
The Knights have already shown over the past couple of seasons they will no longer take risks with signing players who have been injury prone.
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