Knights will explore every option to replace Mitchell Pearce — except one
NEWCASTLE isn't planning to go to market for a Mitchell Pearce replacement, and will instead put faith in young playmakers Brock Lamb, Connor Watson, and Jack Cogger.
The Knights are still coming to terms with the fact they have lost their big-money marquee signing for most of the season after scans on Sunday ruled Pearce out for up to 16 weeks with a ruptured pectoral.
It could be a death blow for their season, which showed plenty of promise with four wins from the opening seven rounds of competition.
Pearce is leading the Dally M count and is co-captain of the club, having jumped ship from the Roosters in the off-season.
All of a sudden the odds of Newcastle playing finals this year have blown out, and Knights fans are nervously biting their nails wondering how the side will fare without the Origin halfback.
The halves depth at the club is also a little concerning. Lamb, Cogger and Watson are the only recognised (and fit) playmakers on the senior list.
Trent Hodkinson was released in the pre-season, while Dylan Phythian was sacked for a second positive drugs test.
Cogger is signed to Canterbury from 2019 but, luckily, the Knights chose to hang on to him for this season.
Lamb was axed from the team last week for his form, while Watson is yet to return from a shoulder injury suffered early in the season.
Watson is pushing to be fit for selection this week, but exactly who lines up in the halves against Manly on Friday remains to be seen.
The temptation is there for coach Nathan Brown and his football manager Darren Mooney to go to market to try to fill the void left by Pearce's injury.
Newcastle is in the fortunate position of having a small handful of spots left to fill on their 30-man senior roster. They have until the trade cut-off of June 30 to fill the list.
The Knights also have a fair chunk of money left to spend under the NRL salary cap.
There's enough playmakers out there for the club to chase if they so desired. Jackson Hastings is on the outer at Manly, while Canterbury need to shed players and have the likes of Nu Brown and Josh Cleeland stuck behind the first grade halves.
But Mooney told foxsports.com.au the club had not considered signing another playmaker.
"We have got room, we have got roster spots, but we're more looking to bring in different positions than halves at the moment," Mooney said.
Mooney conceded the club was still "mourning" the Pearce injury.
Now the weight of expectation falls on the shoulders of three young players who have 90 NRL games' experience between them.
Watson is only new to the Hunter but he amassed 41 games for the Roosters before leaving Bondi.
He'll return from injury and slot in at five-eighth most likely, where he was playing before his shoulder busted.
Then it's a race in two between Cogger and Lamb for the other halves spot.
Cogger was impressive at the weekend when playing alongside Pearce as the Knights beat the Tigers in a thriller.
That was only his ninth game in the NRL.
Lamb has 30 games to his name but couldn't hold his place in the side and was pushed out by Cogger just last week.
The left-field option for coach Brown is to throw veteran utility Jamie Buhrer into a playmaking role.
Buhrer is an all-round footballer and produced a stunning chip kick to set up Shaun Kenny-Dowall for the winning try on Saturday.
Mitchell Pearce is irreplaceable for the Knights. They'll need plenty of that old Hunter steel to guide them through the coming four months.