BRODIE Jones is back on the bench this week but his heroics against Cronulla last Friday night have only strengthened his case for a new contract with the Newcastle Knights.
Jones, the 22-year-old Cessnock junior, played the game of his life in Newcastle's 26-22 triumph, scoring a try and having a hand in two others in the unfamiliar role of right-side centre.
His performance could well have captured the attention of rival clubs but Knights coach Adam O'Brien is confident of retaining the former Australian Schoolboys back-rower, who is unsigned beyond this season.
"He's always been in our plans," O'Brien said.
He's always been in our plans.ADAM O'BRIEN
"He doesn't want to go anywhere. He's a local guy and he's certainly someone that we're aware of. The recruitment guys, they have a process and everything has a plan and Brodie is certainly part of that, definitely."
O'Brien was delighted with Jones' inspiring contribution against Cronulla and considered retaining him at centre.
But the coach feels a specialist outside back will be required against the Panthers at Penrith Stadium on Thursday night, after losing winger Hymel Hunt with a hamstring strain.
The likely solution is that Enari Tuala will play right-side centre, alongside the recalled Staford To'a.
O'Brien's other option is Gehamat Shibasaki.
Whoever gets the call-up faces a daunting task against Penrith's lethal left-edge attack.
Newcastle's right-side defenders are likely to encounter an onslaught from the likes of Viliame Kikau and Stephen Crichton, marshalled by Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai. There is no tougher assignment in the NRL.
"I just think if you've got a centre in your squad who's healthy, you pick your centre," O'Brien said. "Rather than moving a guy to where it's not his No.1 spot, regardless of how he played on the weekend.
"He [Jones] did an exceptional job, but we've got guys that can fill that role."
Jones was not the only Cessnock junior to impress the coach, after 23-year-old winger Brayden Musgrave handled himself more than capably in his NRL debut.
"They build them tough up that way," O'Brien said. "There's been some handy footballers come out of Cessnock."
Musgrave is set to find himself marking Charlie Staines, one of the NRL's fastest players, on Thursday.
"I felt safe every time they put the high ball up," O'Brien said of Musgrave.
"He was safe. We knew we'd get that from him.
"He's very, very good under the high ball.
"I thought he played tough, too. He had some tough carries coming out of our own end.
"He's a big body and I thought he handled the occasion really well."