KNIGHTS coach Adam O'Brien hopes a sharpshooter will emerge at training over the next three weeks as he ponders a stopgap goalkicking replacement for Kalyn Ponga.
Toohey's News: Listen to Barry Toohey's new podcast in your Podcast app
Ponga will be suspended for Newcastle's round-three clash after a grade-one shoulder charge on Corey Thompson in the 42-24 win against Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval on March 22.
The Queensland Origin dynamo pleaded guilty to reduce a potential two-game ban to one match.
O'Brien has had no qualms about naming local junior Tex Hoy to make his NRL debut at fullback in Ponga's absence, but settling on a kicker shapes as more of a dilemma.
The only other recognised kicker on Newcastle's roster is five-eighth Mason Lino, who has landed 49 goals from 60 attempts in his 29-game NRL career, at a healthy strike rate of 81.67 per cent.
But Lino did not feature in Newcastle's opening two games, against the Warriors and Tigers, and it is hard to imagine O'Brien shifting Kurt Mann from pivot.
Back-rower Mitch Barnett showed some ability with the boot last season, kicking three goals from five shots, including one from the sideline.
But Barnett recently underwent major neck surgery, and while his recovery is ahead of schedule, he would appear at long odds to be available by May 28, the date NRL officials have targeted for the season resumption.
The only other player in Newcastle's squad to have kicked an NRL goal is winger Edrick Lee, who converted the last try of his final match for Cronulla at Shark Park, a 38-12 win against his future Knights teammates in 2018.
Knights skipper Mitchell Pearce, who has potted nine field goals in his 278 NRL games, missed his only ever shot from the kicking tee in the Sydney Roosters' 18-12 win against Manly in 2013.
Asked about the options for round three, O'Brien admitted nobody was locked in and said he would "spend the next three weeks deciding".
If O'Brien requires any help with what could be a crucial decision, he need look no further than assistant coach David Furner, who kicked 511 goals during his 200-game career with the Canberra Raiders.
There will be no such debate about the inclusion of 20-year-old Hoy in the No.1 jersey after his outstanding pre-season.
Hoy showed he was ready for a first-grade initiation with quality displays in the Nines tournament and also Newcastle's trial match against the Roosters at Gosford.
"Tex Hoy will start at fullback that first game back," O'Brien said.
"Based on his time trial [on Wednesday], I think Tex has got a real good idea [he will be selected].
"He was outstanding with his running today and, by all reports, he has trained whilst on his own in the last five weeks and left no stone unturned ...
"I thought he was great in our Nines, and in our trials, and if I'm going to stick true to my word and say jerseys will be earned here, they won't be given away no matter what the circumstance, I can live to that in this case with Tex."
O'Brien added that he didn't want Hoy "to put the slippers" on just yet and expected him to keep training with the same level of intensity.
After Newcastle's impressive start to the season, O'Brien said the incumbents had earned his confidence but added that the likes of Bradman Best and Tautau Moga, who are returning from injury, would still come into calculations.
"I can't discount what those guys did in those first two games," he said.
"Guys like Gehamat [Shibasaki] and Enari [Tuala] did a great job in those first two games, and also our trials, but at the same time they have to come in and aim up during this three-week period, and they understand that.
"I'd say the team for our next game is written in pencil, but it's no written in pen."
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.