NEWCASTLE captain Kurt Gidley could make a surprise appearance at Scully Park tonight.
Gidley wasn’t named in the 22-man squad earlier in the week but indicated he might lace up the boots against the Raiders.
“I had the operation (on torn ligaments and broken bones in ankle) during the semis last year and it went really well,” Gidley said.
“I should be right to play in the second half tomorrow night (tonight) and, all being well, I’ll be back in round one.”
He’ll be one of several players having their first runs for the pre-season.
Darius Boyd, Kade Snowden and James McManus are all making their returns while Michael Dobson will make his return to the NRL against the side he made his debut for.
Dobson played for the Raiders before heading overseas.
He’ll be straight into the firing line, being named to start at five-eighth after Jarrod Mullen injured his hamstring in last weekend’s Auckland Nines.
Tonight’s clash will round out the Knights’ pre-season and they’ll be hoping to turn around the result from last year’s visit.
“I remember last year’s game at Scully Park well – the Sharks beat us on the last play – so it would be good to get a win this time,” Gidley said.
Centre Dane Gagai was also part of the squad that played the Sharks last year and said it was always good to get out and visit the country.
Being from a little country town himself, he appreciates what such visits can mean.
He said it was “definitely a serious hit-out” for them.
“It’s our one and only trial going into round one,” Gagai said.
The former Brisbane Bronco formed a strong combination with Akuila Uate down the right edge last season and, after an impressive pre-season, Gidley is tipping him to carve up this year.
“It’s the best pre-season I’ve had so far,” Gagai said.
Over the summer he even attended a camp at the Michael Johnson Performance-Athletic Training Centre in the USA.
Moving to the centres when he moved to the Knights after previously playing on the wing and at fullback, Gagai pointed to defence as being a big focus for him.
“It’s been a real big key in the pre-season, making sure defensively I’m switched on and don’t let any tries in down my corner,” he said.
Another looking forward to a big year is second-rower Alex McKinnon.
“I’ve had a big pre-season and am really excited to play my role in the team,” McKinnon said.
He said, for him, consistency has been a big focus and making sure he’s mentally prepared.
“I find during the year it’s more mental than physical,” he said.
“Everyone’s at that same level.”
The former Aberdeen junior will have a few supporters in the crowd.
His aunt, uncle, nan and pop are all coming up.
The 22-year-old said he loves having the chance to come back to the country, and will be joined on the bench by another former Group 21 junior – Adam Clydsdale.
McKinnon was a part of the squad that played in the Nines last weekend and felt they were in a better position this year than heading into last season.
“Another year of Wayne has really helped us. It’s helped the club as a whole and the players,” he said.
The Knights had a busy day yesterday. After an open training session at Farrer, the squad dispersed to visit various primary schools in Tamworth.