The Newcastle Knights might have produced one of the coups of the 2020 NRL season with their belated decision to recruit veteran hooker Andrew McCullough from the Brisbane Broncos.
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The two-month coronavirus hiatus has provided Sporting Declaration with ample time to ponder the Knights' prospects in the unprecedented campaign that lies ahead, and the one doubt that kept nagging away was how they were going to replace Jayden Brailey at dummy-half.
Brailey, of course, was Newcastle's main off-season acquisition, and the 24-year-old from Cronulla wasted no time in proving his worth.
In the words of Knights skipper Mitchell Pearce, Brailey was probably Newcastle's best player in their season-opening wins against the Warriors and Wests Tigers, only to suffer a knee injury that required reconstructive surgery.
Brailey's misfortune, on top of the decision to release unsettled Danny Levi to Manly during the pre-season, left the Knights without an established hooker.
Multi-tasker Connor Watson played a handful of games at dummy-half last season and would appear more than capable of making a successful transition.
The other option is late bloomer Chris Randall, who by all accounts showed enough during a train-and-trial stint to convince coach Adam O'Brien he is ready for a shot at NRL level.
Watson and Randall in tandem could potentially have handled the job.
But O'Brien has made it obvious that his preference is to continue using Watson as a specialist No.14, which makes a lot of sense.
Much as Watson would undoubtedly love a regular starting berth, his ability to fill every backline position, as well as hooker and lock, makes him the ideal bench handyman. Indeed, that versatility could one day prove his ticket to Origin and Test football.
In particular, Watson offers Newcastle some real X-factor when he comes on as a roving, ball-playing lock.
The lock forward role has been redefined in the modern era.
If you went back to the 1980s and '90s, locks were often a secondary five-eighth, and the likes of Wally Lewis, Brad Fittler, Terry Lamb and Brett Kenny all packed into the back of the scrum at various stages.
But in more recent times, most teams have just picked a third prop at lock, favouring size and power over skill.
The emergence of players like Victor Radley and Cameron Murray, however, has reminded coaches that locks don't necessarily need to weigh 115 kilograms and cart the ball up with no intention of passing it.
Watson, at 87kg, is a lightweight, but he defends tenaciously and his explosive pace and footwork provide a point of difference.
If he switches to starting hooker, whatever the Knights gain at dummy-half, they might lose in impact off the bench. And as O'Brien said recently, he's loath to "rob Peter to pay Paul".
All of which brings us to McCullough, the 30-year-old who has played in 260 NRL games for the Broncos and three Origins for Queensland, and who sought a release from Brisbane to sign with Newcastle until the end of this season.
McCullough is not the type to carve a team up like South Sydney's Damien Cook, or Danny Buderus back in the day. Nor will he control and dominate a game like Melbourne maestro Cameron Smith.
But O'Brien knows exactly what he is going to get from the Queenslander. Solid, reliable service and very few errors. As the coach said this week: "Andrew is a quality defensive player with a consistent passing game and kick threat."
When you combine McCullough's 260 games with Pearce's career tally of 278, the Knights now have the most experienced hooker-half combination in the NRL.
To put that in context, Andrew Johns played 249 games for the Knights and Buderus 257.
You might be wondering why, if McCullough is such an asset, the Broncos were willing to let him leave.
Well, Brisbane seemed content to use him off the bench after pinning their hopes on promising youngster Jake Turpin.
And it now appears that by releasing McCullough, they may have freed up enough cash to sign code-hopping back-rower Ben Te'o.
For McCullough to agree to join Newcastle is a vote of confidence on two fronts.
Firstly, he must have a high opinion of the Knights, given that he has walked away from a team containing rising superstars such as Payne Haas, David Fifita and Tevita Pangai.
Moreover, McCullough clearly believes he has more to offer than playing second fiddle.
Presumably he is joining Newcastle because he sees an opportunity to play as first-choice hooker. And if he is able to do so, it might allow him to extend his career into next season and beyond, whether than be with Newcastle or elsewhere.
His arrival reinforces what was looking like the obvious chink in the Knights' armour.
Now they have a squad which, on paper at least, appears the strongest the club has assembled for many seasons. Their long-suffering fans are already daring to dream.