PROMOTED: Jaelen Feeney will start at halfback for the Knights against the Gold Coast Titans on Saturday. Picture: Max Mason-HubersAFTER making his NRL debut at fullback and filling holes at centre, five-eighth and hooker, Jaelen Feeney will finally wear the Knights No.7 jumper as the future of captain Trent Hodkinson becomes increasingly clouded.
Hodkinson has been left out of the squad to take on the Gold Coast Titans at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday, and instead will leadthe reserve grade side against the Wests Tigers at Leichhardt on the same day.
It is the second straight week the former Origin playmaker has been omitted from the 21-man squad.
Hodkinson,28, is contracted to Newcastle until the end of 2018and, other than suspended Jarrod Mullen, is their highest-paid player.
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Coach Nathan Brown was reluctant to comment on Hodkinson’s playing future on Tuesday.
“Can we move on to the next topic please,” he said.
Sione Mata’utiapartnered rookie Bock Lamb in the halves in the 24-12 loss to the Cowboys last round.
Feeney played 20 minutes off the bench alongside Lamb in a performance that was enough toconvince Brown to promote the 22 year old to the starting side.
“Jaelen isdefinitely putting hishand up,” Brown said on Tuesday before the team was named.“When he came on the field the other day, he was very good. He is getting close to an opportunity, that is for sure.”
Feeney started five games last season. He made an inauspicious debut at fullback before being used as a stop-gap measure at centre, five-eighth and hooker.
The tall pivot has played exclusively at halfback in reserve grade this season.His inclusion is one of two changes to the starting side.Luke Yates comes in at lock for an injured Mitch Barnett.
Barnett faces up to eight weeks on the sideline with a ankle injury.
The 23-year-old work horse, who has been the Knights best forward, was on crutches and in a CAM boot on Tuesday and said he could require surgery.
“We will know a bit more in the next day or so,” Brown said.“It is definitely a six to eightweek injury, maybe worse.”
Barnett’s injury continues a start to the season in which Dylan Phythian (knee), Rory Kostjasyn (throat), Pauli Pauli (hip) and Jamie Buhrer (knee) have suffered major problems.
“We have had a little bit of a bad run or late and to people who are quite important to us,” Brown said.“It is a tough game rugby league.”
On the plus side English back-rower Joe Wardle returns from an ankle problem on the bench.The Knights beat an injury-ravaged Titans at McDonald Jones Stadium in round two to end a 19-game losing streak.
“The Gold Coast side will be stronger this week,” Brown warned. “They have a few of their good experienced players back.”