Who will play No.6? Front runner to partner Pearce

Few things are guaranteed heading into the 2020 season.

Positions are up for grabs and the question on the lips of every nib Newcastle Knights fan is who will partner Mitchell Pearce in the halves?

Pearce is a lock at halfback but the race for the No.6 jersey is wide open.

Having had multiple players fill that role in 2019, there’s no shortage of contenders for the spot.

The likes of Connor Watson, Kurt Mann, Mason Lino and Phoenix Crossland are all in the mix.

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Training attitude and trial form is likely to be a factor in deciding who partners Pearce but one thing is certain, whoever claims the spot will need to hold their own.

Speaking on the first day of pre-season, new coach Adam O’Brien said the team’s reliance on Pearce is too heavy and has urged his teammates to help shoulder some of the load.

“We have a number of utilities in the squad, obviously Kurt Mann, Connor Watson are both guys that’ve spent some time there,” O’Brien said.

“I really like the look of Phoenix Crossland, physically and actually what he does with the game.

“He’s got a really good kicking game and good strong passing. He’s a young guy so I see him as an option, and that’s probably spot I need somebody this season to go and grab and make their own.

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“There’s a heavy reliance I feel at the moment on Mitchell, we need to move away from Mitchell needs to be a 9 out of 10 for us to win. We need to improve everyone in and around Mitch to get the best out of him for the whole season.”

One player who won’t feature in the halves next year is Kalyn Ponga.

Having started 2019 at five-eighth before returning to fullback, O’Brien has declared Ponga will continue to develop in the No.1 with plenty of room to grow.

While he doesn’t doubt Ponga’s ability to one day transition into the halves, his focus is on nurturing his game as a custodian.

“In terms of fullbacks he’s elite, but he’s nowhere near his ceiling yet,” O’Brien said.

“We need to keep coaching him and he’s eager to learn in that fullback position. I see that as his best position for himself and us. I’m not going to compare him to Lockyer, but you can move to six later on. Let’s be the best number one first.”