November 28, 2021

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Surprise tip for Knights chopping block emerges

3 min read
Rugby league great Peter Sterling expects new Knights recruit Jake Clifford to be rushed straight...

Rugby league great Peter Sterling expects new Knights recruit Jake Clifford to be rushed straight into the side to face the Eels this Sunday, even though it will disrupt a winning combination.

And in what could be a glimpse into the future, Sterling predicted the injured Kurt Mann's position in the Knights roster was vulnerable, given the rise of young half Phoenix Crossland and the form of Connor Watson, who could end up in a battle for relevance with Mann, given they cover similar positions in the backline as utilities.

Sterling rated Newcastle's performance against Manly their "best win of the season" and was particularly impressed with young halfback Crossland, saying "I've liked his composure".

Yet, the four-time premiership-winner said 23-year-old halfback Clifford had been signed by the Knights for a reason, leaving coach Adam O'Brien with a big call to make when he names his Round 13 team later today.

"I don't think they brought Jake Clifford down to sit around and watch," Sterling told Wide World of Sports' Sterlo's Wrap.

"Maybe this first week they'll use him a little bit differently but he's going to be in the halves."

O'Brien backed up Sterling's assertion in his press conference immediately following the Knights' win over Manly admitting Clifford would "be a chance for sure" when asked if the halfback would make his club debut against Parramatta.

"We've got a couple of sessions this week and we'll see how we go from there," O'Brien said.

With Crossland having starred against the Sea Eagles, Sterling's focus shifted to Mann, who started the season in good form wearing the No.6 jersey but has tailed off more recently.

"I think Kurt Mann probably hasn't been in the best form so I'm wondering if Kurt might be the player they look at," Sterling said, adding "[he's got] utility value, although they've already got that in Connor Watson, who was the best player on the field in this game."

Mann picked up a leg injury in training last week and was not in the game day 17 that faced the Sea Eagles, with Watson having arguably his best game for the club deputising at five-eighth.

It was another reminder of the 25-year-old's value, although he has yet to nail down a regular starting role despite being in his fourth season at Newcastle.

While Clifford is a natural game managing half, the Knights have brought him to the club to play alongside Mitchell Pearce, who was earlier this year re-signed for 2022 on a one-year extension.

That perhaps indicates that O'Brien sees him as a five-eighth, at least for next season, which could open the door for Crossland to retain the No.7 jersey and strike up a combination with his new teammate.

Sterling, for one, is keen to see more of the young Kiwi.

"But I thought this young man, Phoenix Crossland, in the 7, he's played less than a dozen games, it's hard for him not to be their again next week, it's hard to change a winning team," he said.

"He didn't try to overplay his hand and in the second half they turned the football over to Manly where they had to. Every time Manly got the footy back it was 10 metres out from their own line and a long way to go to get the points that they needed and Crossland was front and centre for playing that field position."

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