Adam O'Brien has made the bravest call of his NRL coaching career just two weeks out from the finals series with Tex Hoy set to debut as a starting five-eighth for the Knights against St George Illawarra on Sunday.
O'Brien has dumped the more experienced Mason Lino in favour of 20-year-old Hoy, hoping his X-factor with the footy can add spark to Newcastle's attack as the Knights strive to stay in the race to host a home semifinal in the first week of the play-offs.
Hoy will become skipper Mitchell Pearce's fourth halves partner this season with Kurt Mann, Blake Green and Lino having previously played in the position.
While many people will see it as a big call this close to the play-offs, O'Brien believes the time is right to give Hoy an opportunity to show what he can do.
"When is it the right time if not now,"O'Brien told the Newcastle Herald.
"I've got a lot of faith in Tex and I've said it for a long time now that there is always something happening around him when he has the footy.
"I'm not about to die wondering. I don't want to get to the off-season and be pondering what might have been had we given Tex a go in the halves. I just think we need to have a look at him now."
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O'Brien refused to elaborate on the reasons for Lino's dumping after just three games in the No.6 jersey but some costly errors and defensive lapses in the big loss to the Sydney Roosters would no doubt have been on the list.
He kicked out on the full in general play early in the second half and on another occasion, kicked a re-start dead in-goal on the full, giving away a halfway line penalty. There were also some crucial misses in defence. But he was far from being the only player to be well below his best on the night.
"I've spoken to Mason and he's aware of what he needs to work on," O'Brien said.
The return of Kalyn Ponga, Mitch Barnett and Hymel Hunt to the starting side after they were rested for the Roosters clash has also brought about some other changes.
Hunt will play his first game of the season in the centres against the Dragons at the expense of Gemahat Shibasaki, who has been left out of the extended squad altogether after he struggled defensively against the Roosters. Starford To'a retains his spot on the wing.
Jacob Saifiti reverts back to the bench with Barnett slated to return at lock after resting a painful sternum injury.
The loss of Kurt Mann to a one game suspension for a crusher tackle has meant Chris Randall will start at hooker for just the second time this season with Phoenix Crossland returning to the bench after missing the Roosters game due to the after-effects of a concussion. Prop Josh King, who has been a good contributor off the bench in recent weeks, loses his place in the 17 to accomodate Saifiti.
The Knights currently sit in seventh spot, a point behind South Sydney, who they will be looking to lead-frog to earn the right to host a home semi.
To do so, they will need to beat both the Dragons and the Titans in the final two rounds and hope Souths drop a game to either the Bulldogs or the Roosters.
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