KNIGHTS coach Adam O'Brien is pondering a host of stopgap options as he prepares to replace one of his team's unsung heroes, towering winger Edrick Lee.
Lee suffered a fractured left arm in Sunday's 14-12 win against Manly and doctors were yesterday deciding whether he would need surgery and how long he was likely to spend on the sidelines.
He broke the same bone in round 15 last year and missed the final 10 games of Newcastle's season.
In Lee's absence, O'Brien faces a choice between a specialist winger, rookie Starford Toa, or four players with limited experience on the flank: Tex Hoy, Tautau Moga, Enari Tuala and Gehamat Shibasaki.
Hoy came off the bench against Manly to replace Lee and acquitted himself admirably, but his versatility makes him the ideal utility player on O'Brien's interchange rotation.
Moga, Tuala and Shibasaki all prefer to play centre but have filled in on the wing at previous clubs.
Toa, who turned 20 last month, made his NRL debut in Newcastle's final-round thrashing at Penrith last season and marked the occasion with a 55-metre intercept try.
He has not appeared in the top grade since.
Moga hasn't played in the NRL for more than 10 months, after a hamstring injury in the pre-season prevented him from stating a case for selection in Newcastle's trial games.
But he has reportedly been training strongly since the season resumed and his huge frame might come in handy in Sunday's blockbuster clash with competition leaders Parramatta at McDonald Jones Stadium, given that Lee's replacement will mark powerful Parramatta winger Blake Ferguson.
Ferguson, a veteran of seven Tests and nine Origins, is tryless in eight games this season but his career record would suggest he is due.
In 219 NRL games he has 112 tries to his name, and he has scored more four-pointers against the Knights (12) than against any rival team.
Lee's value to the Knights is perhaps best illustrated by their record since he joined them from Cronulla at the start of last season. Of the 22 games in which he has played, Newcastle have won 13 and drawn one, for a winning strike rate of 59 per cent.
They lost eight of the 10 games he missed last year, which meant their success rate dropped to 20 per cent.
O'Brien said he was still considering his options, and a reserve-team scrimmage between Newcastle and Manly's fringe players in Sydney on Monday will possibly have some bearing on his decision.
In an interview on the Knights' website, Hoy said he played on the wing only "a couple of times" previously but was happy to play wherever O'Brien picked him.
As well as Lee, Newcastle's other concerns are back-rower Sione Mata'utia and fullback Kalyn Ponga, who both suffered head knocks against Manly and will have to follow mandatory concussion protocols.
The Knights are expected to welcome back Queensland Origin forward Tim Glasby, who sat out the Manly game after suffering a concussion in their previous outing, against North Queensland in Townsville.
Rugged back-rower Mitch Barnett might also come into contention if he can receive a medical clearance.
Barnett needed neck surgery after the win against Wests Tigers in round two but has recovered strongly and is now awaiting the green light from his specialist.
Meanwhile, the Knights now know where and when they will be playing for the next month after the NRL locked in a fixture list for rounds 10 to 12.
After the Eels on Sunday (4.05pm), Newcastle face Souths at Bankwest Stadium on Saturday week (5.30pm), the Bulldogs at home on Sunday, July 26 (2pm), and Melbourne at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday, August 2 (4.05pm).