Knights spine a picture of inexperience

Scott Bailey |

Chris Randall is expected to start the NRL season as the first-choice hooker for Newcastle.
Chris Randall is expected to start the NRL season as the first-choice hooker for Newcastle.

Newcastle will enter the season with one of the NRL’s most inexperienced spines after Jayden Brailey’s injury added to their creative woes.

The Knights were still holding onto hope on Monday that Brailey’s season may not be over, as he prepares to go under the knife on his torn achilles.

Brailey was hurt in training on Saturday, going down in an innocuous drill that has now made for two ruined seasons in the past three years.

Even in the best-case scenario, the Newcastle captain and first-choice hooker will be unavailabke for around five months, missing the first half of the season.

Chris Randall looms as the man most likely to fill the void at dummy-half, having done so in recent years when Brailey has been out.

Making matters worse for Newcastle, Brailey’s injury comes just a month after Mitchell Pearce and his 309 games of experience exited the club.

Pearce’s departure had already made Newcastle one of four clubs to poised to begin the opening months of the NFL season without a 100-game player at fullback, hooker or in the halves.

While Newcastle would have planned on having almost 550 games of experience in their spine in round one, that number will now be closer to 175 come March 12 against the Sydney Roosters.

It means only Gold Coast’s revamped spine of Jayden Campbell, AJ Brimson, Toby Sexton and Erin Clark will start 2022 with less experience.

Newcastle’s attack had already become a point of contention in 2021, with their 17.83 points per game during the regular season the second lowest of any finals side in the NRL era.

Knights coach Adam O’Brien’s options outside of Randall are limited.

Connor Watson had spent some time out of dummy-half in recent years, but has left for the Roosters.

Kurt Mann is another alternative, but Randall was the preferred hooking option without Brailey late last year.

In turn, that would allow Mann to come off the bench as a genuine utility, relieving Randall when required while also able to slot into the halves and backline.

O’Brien also has to make a decision on his halves combination, with Adam Clune and Phoenix Crossland in the mix to partner Jake Clifford.

Meanwhile, superstar fullback Kalyn Ponga will likely captain the club in Brailey’s absence, having done so at times last year.