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LEAD THE WAY

HARD YARDS: Korbin Sims, Pauli Pauli and Jeremy Smith wrestle Tariq Sims to the ground at training on Tuesday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.COACH Nathan Brownhas put the onus on his senior men to spearhead a fresh-faced Knights outfit in the NRL opener, warning they have no excusesnot to start the season well.
Nanjing Night Net

As expected Brown will giveFijian twin-towers Daniel and JacobSaifiti, former Warriors lower-grader David Bhana, and Knights juniorsJaelen Feeney and Pat Mata‘utia theirfirst crack in the NRL against the Gold Coast Titans at CBus Stadium on Sunday.

The 19-man squad named on Tuesday, which will be trimmed to 17, bearslittle resemblance to the outfit which collected the wooden spoon last year.Gone areKurt Gidley, Beau Scott, Chris Houston and David Fa’alogo, and with them more than 1000 games of first-grade experience.

Brown, who takes charge of his first NRL game in seven years,has the utmost faith in the young brigade but said they need support.

“They are all in there for a reason,” he said of the rookies.“They all tick a number of boxes. If they get out there and do what they do well and contribute to the team, that is all we can ask. I would expect them to be a little bit nervous, and I expect them to be excited.Theirperformance will hopefully reflect the senior players. The older ones are the ones who need to hit the ground running. There is no excuse for a senior player to not start the year off well.”

Co-captains Jeremy Smith (193 games) and NSW halfbackTrent Hodkinson (116) and home-grown products Jarrod Mullen (197), Kade Snowden (173) and Ukuila Uate (151) provide the bulk of experience.Dane Gagai (90), Robbie Rochow (66) and Korbin Sims (54) are also deep into their NRL careers.

“We are quite comfortable with where we are at as a squad,” Brown said.“It’s obviously inexperienced, but we have a core group of senior players who have been around long enough to know what they need to do. If they do it well, I’m sure the younger players will feed off the back of them.”

Five is the most debutants theKnightshave fielded since their inception in 1988 and the most in the NRLsince the “Baby Broncos” chose six first-timers in 2002.

“When we got here as a coaching staff, we made it quite clear that the team will be picked on form,” Brown said. “We are not too worried about the age of people. It is no good not having confidence in them. All the guys we have put in had really good parts to their game in the Canberra, and they also had parts they would want to get better. The only way they are going to get better is by training and playing.”

Brown is not expecting perfection from the L-platersbut saw enough in the 34-28 trial loss to Canberra, especially in the second half, to select them with a degree ofconfidence.

“When you put a fair number inwhat you expect is that they should be able to fulfill their role in our team reasonably well,” Brown said. “They are going to have some errors. One of thoseerrors can’t be commitment. They have to compete hard and get themselves in the right positions to do the job for their teammates. Along the way they will have little ups and down, that is what young people do. As a whole, we have a lot of confidence in the guys. Against Canberra there was some positive stuff that came from the rookies. No-one should expect them to be perfect. As long asthey compete hard and get the roles right I’m sure they will give the opposition stuff to think about most weeks.”