:Digital Image  Grant Trouville © NRLphotos  : NRL Rugby League - 2016 Auckland 9s - Newcastle Knights Train. Thursday February 4th 2016.

With the exclusion of a number of Newcastle Knights from this weekend due to injury and suspension, it paves the way for some fresh faces to stake a claim when they encounter the Cronulla Sharks at Shark Park on Sunday. 

“The guys who are coming into replace the guys who are injured and suspended, they need to lift their game and rise to the levels that have been set over the previous few weeks,” coach Nathan Brown said on Wednesday. 

While the Knights failed to close out the Melbourne Storm in the Round 19 match at Hunter Stadium, a new competitive standard has been set for the team.

“Whilst we didn’t win and we are disappointed not to win, at least we made the opposition earn the right to win and we need to go out there this week,” he said. 

“It’s not an excuse for the guys who took part in the last two games, not to go and perform at the level they did.” 

Meanwhile, Queensland Origin representative Dane Gagai will need to pass a fitness test in order to take the field after quad soreness following Origin game III.

“They are confident he is going to be right. We will know more as he was going through his drills and meeting with the medical staff later,” he said. 

“We are reasonably positive, but if we aren’t 100 per cent, we certainly wont play him."

In addition, Sione Mata’utia broke his jaw on Sunday against the Storm after recently switching to play in the back row.

“Sione is a young player who has just changed position and I think everyone would agree he has been one of the best players on the field in both games,” he said. 

“Ideally him playing the back end of the year, it would help him build into next year, but unfortunately it’s a bit of a rough game. 

“It’s going to give Pauli Pauli a chance to come in. 

“He has had three games in reserve grade and has been in the top one or two players every week and gives him another chance to see what he can do.”

On a positive note, Jarrod Mullen returned to the position of five-eighth, playing his first game back since injuring his hamstring in Round 8.

“Jarrod has come though fine and is a bit sore in general being his first game,” Brown said.

“He trained out there light, but he had a nice solid game for us and his kicking game was great and his commitment was good. 

“Hopefully he is a player who can stay on the field now and finish the back end of the year.”