Mitch Barnett will end almost four months of injury exile when the Knights enforcer returns to bolster Newcastle's forward pack for Saturday's clash against South Sydney at Bankwest Stadium.
Barnett's comeback after a neck operation could not be more timely with the club facing the prospect of being without frontrow spearhead Daniel Saifiti for up to six weeks after scans confirmed he suffered significant knee ligament damage in last Sunday's loss to Parramatta.
The Knights will also welcome back bench utility Connor Watson from ankle surgery against the Rabbitohs while backrower Sione Mata'utia returns after missing the Eels defeat due to concussion.
"It's good and bad news on the injury front," Knights coach Adam O'Brien told the Newcastle Herald.
"We get Barney and Connor back from some long term stuff and Sione returns but then we go and lose Daniel Saifiti for at least four weeks and possibly as long as six weeks. And Brodie Jones did a rib cartilage and is gone for three to four weeks. We can't take a trick."
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O'Brien has named Barnett, Watson and Mata'utia on the bench with Aidan Guerra retaining his spot in the backrow for his 200th NRL game.
But the coach admits he is toying with the idea of starting with Barnett and will leave a decision on the final makeup of his run-on side until later in the week.
"There is a possibility that Barney might start but I haven't made up my mind on that one yet," he said.
Barnett hasn't played since losing all feeling in his right arm following a tackle in the first half against the Wests Tigers in round two back in March.
It was discovered bulging discs in his neck were pressuring his spinal chord and he was forced to undergo surgery to relieve the stress on the nerves in his arm.
He was given the all clear to resume playing by his specialist last week but the club erred on the side of caution, preferring to give him another full training week before allowing him back on the field.
"He gives us some added aggression Barney so it will be good to have him back out there,"O'Brien said.
Watson returns after he damaged ankle ligaments early in his side's 14-all draw with Penrith in round three at Campbelltown Stadium when the competition resumed after the shutdown in late May.
He has pushed Tex Hoy out of the 17-man squad although the coach admitted he contemplated using both Watson and Hoy on the interchange rotation.
"Tex is the unlucky one and I did think seriously about having both him and Connor coming off the bench,"O'Brien said.
"But in the end, for the balance of the team, I decided to go with just Connor. The other thing is it means we can get some extra stuff on the training paddock into Tex because he hasn't always been getting big minutes."
As expected, Jacob Saifiti will start in the frontrow alongside David Klemmer with his brother sidelined.
Souths will be without fullback Latrell Mitchell [suspension] and centre Campbell Graham [facial fracture] and have named Jaxson Paulo to debut on the wing.
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