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Knights to face Warriors missing six first team stars

Nathan Brown won't make the mistake of focusing on State of Origin storylines in the leadup to his overhauled Knights hosting a desperate Warriors side in Newcastle.

The game-breakers in Brown's team have been gradually picked off by injury or Origin selection, leaving him with a patchwork of players making NRL debuts, first season starts or playing out of position on Saturday.

The sixth-placed Knights must find a way without halfback Mitchell Pearce, middle forwards David Klemmer, Daniel Saifiti and Tim Glasby - all on Origin duty - while also catering for the injury defections of Kalyn Ponga, and Edrick Lee.

Two Warriors of recent seasons, halfback Mason Lino and prop James Gavet, must somehow replace the quality of Pearce and Klemmer, while a handful of others need to find their feet quickly.

Saifiti's twin brother Jacob is poised for a first NRL appearance since breaking his leg last year. Veteran forward Aidan Guerra and hooker Danny Levi are both listed after suffering ailments earlier in the season.

There will be first starts this season for Herman Ese'ese, Jamie Buhrer and Josh King while rising halfback Phoenix Crossland is a late promotion to the bench, setting up a first grade debut.

Brown's focus was on getting the new mix to gel, having barely given thought to the headline news story of the week - Pearce's recall to NSW colours.

He pointed to the narrative of three weeks ago, before a crunch match against Melbourne, when his team were quizzed incessantly on speculation Pearce would play in Origin II and that Saifiti was a reported bolter.

The outcome was a 34-4 humbling from the Storm, the only loss in Newcastle's last eight games.

"We're really happy about Mitch, he's certainly earned the right. That's probably all I'll say," Brown said.

"The last time, as a club, we probably didn't handle it so well. There was a lot of talk about whether Mitch was playing or Daniel (Saifiti) was playing and we all lost our focus.

"We'll keep our focus on the Warriors and then obviously sit on the chair and cheer for Mitch next week, and for Glas and the other boys."

Lino will have plenty to prove after spending most of his three seasons at the Warriors in the shadow of Shaun Johnson, earning just 17 starts.

He generally stepped up when required, as was the case last week in his fourth and best appearance for the Knights in the 26-12 win over Brisbane.

The 13th-placed Warriors are coming off a debilitating golden point loss at home to Penrith which leaves their finals hopes nearly shot.

Kalyn Ponga
Kalyn Ponga Source: Getty


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