KNIGHTS coach Adam O'Brien has described Jack Cogger's return to the club as a "luxury" and welcomed the selection dilemma it will create.
Cogger, the 26-year-old playmaker who kicked off his top-grade career with Newcastle in 2016, is back where it all began after stints with Canterbury, Super League outfit Huddersfield and reigning NRL champions Penrith.
An Australian Schoolboys representative in 2014, Cogger played a crucial role in the Panthers' recent grand final triumph against Brisbane and has signed a three-year deal with Newcastle.
His arrival ensures O'Brien has a genuine third option at the scumbase, to compete with incumbents Jackson Hastings and Tyson Gamble, whose combination in their first season together was a key factor in Newcastle qualifying fifth in the play-offs.
"It's a real luxury, a real good problem to have as a coach," O'Brien said of the competition for selection.
"You always want to have depth in key positions.
"I'm sure those guys will be going after it all summer, and that's a good position to be in as a club.
"It wasn't that long ago that Mitchell Pearce left us, and we probably lacked a bit of depth in the halves.
"That was a tough year, and we didn't make the finals.
"We're no longer in that position, and that's a good problem to have."
Hastings is racing the clock to return from surgery to repair a broken ankle.
The 27-year-old was initially injured in a controversial "hip-drop" tackle playing for Wests Tigers in 2022, then re-fractured it in a similar incident in August.
He faces a second straight pre-season interrupted by rehabilitation and physiotherapy, but O'Brien was confident that by the time Newcastle's round-one clash with Canberra rolls around on March 7, Hastings will be fit and available for selection.
"We'll obviously see a lot more of him on the paddock after Christmas," O'Brien said.
"The thing about Jacko is you can't fault his work ethic. He's been in here every day.
"He spends more hours in here than me some days.
"He's working his backside off. All he wants to do is get back out there with his teammates.
"And I think post-Christmas he'll be ready to do that. I expect him to start the season."
Another potential halves option for O'Brien is English import Will Pryce, who has joined Newcastle after playing three seasons and 46 games with Super League club Huddersfield.
O'Brien said the 20-year-old had utility value, and could conceivably play fullback, centre or five-eighth.
Newcastle's halves will again be mentored by club legend and rugby league Immortal Andrew Johns.
"We're just going to get some running into their legs, and then I'd imagine Joey will come up maybe a couple of days a week over the summer, and then maybe he'll do one day a week during the season," O'Brien said.