McDonnell set to fill in for injured playmaker
THE boots he’ll be filling are enormous, but Knights coach Rick Stone is confident Shannon McDonnell is up to the task.
Newcastle have received a major blow ahead of tomorrow’s NRL clash with the Cowboys, with skipper and star representative player Kurt Gidley ruled out with a back injury sustained in round one.
While cleared of serious damage, the injury was still considered bad enough to put him on the sideline for at least a week.
He joins fellow Knights guns Neville Costigan ( broken arm) and Isaac De Gois ( broken thumb) as injury omissions.
But while obviously disappointed to lose Gidley, Stone said he had the utmost faith in former Wests Tiger McDonnell.
‘‘ It’s some big shoes for us, we understand that, but there’s no doubt he’s keen and his trial form’s been good,’’ he said.
‘‘ He played plenty of trials for us and he did a good job, so there’s probably a little bit more emphasis to go on Jarrod ( halfback Mullen) – and he’ll probably captain the side in Kurt’s absence.
‘‘ But the way he controlled the game and kicked and looked after our team last week, I was really impressed.’’
Hooker Matt Hilder has been promoted for De Gois and second rower Cameron Ciraldo for Costigan as the Knights’ other changes from the team that thrashed Penrith 42-8 to kick-start their campaign.
Stone said he was expecting a far sterner test against a Cowboys side high on confidence after their win over Brisbane.
‘‘ Playing the Cowboys up there is always a tough gig. I like the look of the seven, one and the nine from last week – Thurston, Bowen and Payne – it looked like they had their old strike combination back,’’ he said.
‘‘ They’re definitely going to trouble us, that’s for sure, they’ve got plenty of options there and we’ll have to be on our game to shut down those blokes in particular, but there’s plenty of other players going well for the Cows.’’
The Knights arrive in Townsville this afternoon and will have a behind-closeddoors training hit-out in an attempt to acclimatise to the humid conditions expected to confront them at Dairy Farmers Stadium tomorrow night.