AN apparently innocuous incident looks set to leave David Klemmer on the sidelines through suspension for Newcastle's crunch game with Gold Coast at Sunshine Coast Stadium on Thursday night.
Klemmer has been charged by the NRL match-review panel with grade-one contrary conduct after a 75th-minute indiscretion in Saturday's 22-16 win against Canterbury.
Replays show the former Test and NSW Origin enforcer taking a hit-up and being tackled by Bulldogs prop Luke Thompson, whose knee appeared to make contact with Klemmer's head while the latter was on the ground.
Klemmer's left arm then flailed about and he appeared to strike Thompson, although the English import appeared unperturbed and referee Peter Gough took no on-field action. The NRL's match-review committee thought otherwise, however, and charged Klemmer on Sunday.
If the Knights take the early guilty plea, Klemmer will be banned for one game.
If they opt to challenge the charge at the judiciary and are unsuccessful, he could miss not only Newcastle's clash with Gold Coast but also their final-round showdown with Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium.
It's understood Knights officials, who have until Monday to submit a plea, are leaning towards accepting a one-game ban.
Klemmer's likely absence could hardly come at a worse time for Newcastle, who already have pack leader Daniel Saifiti unavailable because of a knee problem.
With Saitifi out, Jirah Momoisea made his NRL debut for Newcastle on Saturday off the bench, while another rookie front-rower, Matt Croker, was rushed to Queensland last week to join the squad, once he has completed his quarantine.
O'Brien remains hopeful Saifiti will be back in time for the finals.
"It's only been six days [since he was injured against Cronulla], so to give a progressive report on him is too early," O'Brien said.
"But the physios are working overtime with him. They're happy with where he's at.
"So fingers crossed we get him back for the Broncos game, or if not, if we're fortunate enough, for the first final."
Lachlan Fitzgibbon (shoulder) also will not play again this season, although Tyson Frizell will return this week from a one-game suspension.
While Klemmer's likely absence will be a huge blow to the Knights' hopes of sealing a berth in the final eight by beating Gold Coast, they will at least have Kurt Mann on deck. Mann was put on report for an alleged crusher tackle against the Bulldogs but the match-review panel decided it did not warrant a charge.
Thompson (crusher tackle) and Bulldogs teammate Corey Waddell (contrary conduct) are both facing suspension for alleged illegalities against Newcastle.