Knights coach Nathan Brown hopes a realigned spine will put the spring back in their step against the Roosters at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday.
After winning six straight and seven from eight, Newcastle climbed from last to fourth but have slipped to seventh after dropping three of their past four, including successive home losses to the Bulldogs and Warriors.
Fullback Kalyn Ponga is returning from the torn calf muscle he suffered playing for Queensland in Origin II in Perth on June 23, and Brown expects Kurt Mann to start at five-eighth despite aggravating a sternum injury in their 20-14 loss to Canterbury last Friday.
Halfback Mitchell Pearce and hooker Danny Levi round out the other key play-making positions, marking the first time since they routed the Roosters 38-12 in Newcastle eight weeks ago that those four players will have started in those four spots.
Levi is two games back from an ankle injury suffered early in that match, Ponga has been sidelined for a month and, like Pearce, was involved in the Origin series, and Mann has bounced between several positions in recent weeks to plug holes.
"We had some good performances in that six- or seven-game run that we had, and beat some very good sides," Brown told reporters in Newcastle on Thursday.
Roosters v Knights - Round 18
"Kurt, Pearcey, KP and Danny, that combination certainly appeared to be a very good combination for us, with Connor [Watson] somewhere in there amongst it.
"I don't know if any of us will ever know what Connor's best position is ... but Connor is probably the unlucky one in some ways, going back to the bench, because in the past three or four weeks, amongst all the disruption, he's probably been our best performer as a whole.
"Connor will come on and play numbers of spots, and that seemed to work very, very well for us for a couple of weeks, then we had a few injuries and Origin and Kurt and Connor have both played three positions in the past five weeks.
"So if we can get some sort of stability back, that will help us get our game back to where it was, then if we get some consistency there, we can look to grow our game a little bit."
Brown believed the Roosters had experienced similar disruptions because of injuries and Origin commitments in the past five weeks but will field a formidable line-up on Saturday, spear-headed by NSW stars James Tedesco and Boyd Cordner, and halves Cooper Cronk and Luke Keary.
"Their squad is very powerful, and everyone's expecting them at some stage to go on a bit of a run," Brown said.
"We'd like to think we got a fair bit of confidence out of that good run we had, and whilst our last two games haven't been where we'd like them to be, this is going to be our first time in four or five weeks where we've roughly got the players in the positions where they're best served at our club …
"For us, now it's about getting our energy levels back to where they were, and we'd started to work out what worked for us, and those combinations were starting to work out, so it's about rebuilding those combos."
Brown backs himself to remain coach
Brown was leaning towards sitting out his Origin players against Canterbury but decided against it after the last-minute 24-20 loss to the Warriors the previous week. He now has no firm plans to rest Ponga, Pearce, David Klemmer, Daniel Saifiti or Tim Glasby, because, for different reasons, none of them played all three games of the series.
"We'll monitor them to see how they're going, but we'd like to think we can get a similar team and some similar combinations on the field again for a little block of footy so we can get our game back to where it was," he said.
"People can't be at the height of their energy every week … We had a good eight-week period there where it wasn't always our best footy but our energy levels were really good …
"On the weekend [against Canterbury], our energy levels were very low but what we've got to get better at is, when our energy levels are low, we've got to be good enough to find a way to win.
"You can't be at your height all the time physically. It's impossible.
"They're not cars you put petrol in, and you can't stick them into a power-point, but what we need to get better at is, when we're not at our best, we've got to get some execution things right and make sure we do enough to win some games in that period, which is what the real top sides do."
Meanwhile, Newcastle CEO Phil Gardner has issued a statement on Thursday night to say the Knights were aware of a low-level incident involving Mason Lino over the weekend.
"This has prompted the Knights to review and work collaboratively with the playing group to identify methods to best prepare for the remainder of the season including the avoidance of venues with previous issues. The club is also working with the players to ensure they meet club and community standards."