Knights face back-row conundrum

Lachlan Fitzgibbon of the Knights is set to return after a shoulder injury.
Lachlan Fitzgibbon of the Knights is set to return after a shoulder injury.

Newcastle must fit four into three with Lachlan Fitzgibbon set to return from a shoulder injury against the Sydney Roosters next Saturday night.

Fitzgibbon has not played yet this year, with the Knights back row having beefed up with Tyson Frizell arriving from St George Illawarra.

Mitchell Barnett has also impressed on a move to the left edge, while Connor Watson has added a ball-playing component at lock.

Coach Adam O'Brien hinted on Thursday night that Fitzgibbon could likely be brought back via the bench as he returns to full fitness.

"We're fortunate that Barney played last year as a No.13 through the middle," O'Brien said.

"So he will only bolster the stocks through there.

"Barney on an edge can still move into the middle when you bring Fitz on."

Moving Barnett entirely away from the left edge would a tricky move, given he has struck up a clear combination with Kalyn Ponga who prefers that side.

The Knights are also likely to have Edrick Lee back from a fractured foot, adding much needed experience to their centres.

But more than anything, O'Brien just needs stability within his side after three wins from their opening four games..

He is yet to be able to roll out the same backline for two weeks straight this year, with injuries having plagued him out wide and in the halves.

Kalyn Ponga and Kurt Mann again both looked dangerous in their 24-6 loss to Penrith on Thursday night, but they were unable to take their chances when it matters.

"(Kurt) epitomises the spirit and the fight we're after at the Knights," O'Brien said.

"We are relying on an incidental play to break the game open. But you see the way the Panthers fall into their plays and their shapes.

"Everything is so fluent. It makes you a bit envious.

"I am confident we can get there, but it makes it hard with the amount of personnel changes this team has had over a period of time."

Australian Associated Press