Newcastle Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga.

Newcastle Knights predicted Round 1 line-up

The team with the most off-season changes is consequently the toughest one to pick heading into the start of 2018 but a host of high-profile recruits – Mitch Pearce, Kalyn Ponga, Jacob Lillyman, Aidan Guerra, Tautau Moga and Connor Watson, to name six – all look likely to start.

Given a sudden wealth of back-rowers and dearth of quality centres, combined with his ongoing concussion concerns, we've included Sione Mata'utia as a centre. The other option would be to keep Mata'utia on the bench and bring Ken Sio into the backline.

At this stage, 2017 breakout stars Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Brock Lamb are borderline selections for the first 17.

NRL.com expert Jamie Soward says:

"It's going to be interesting what Nathan Brown does with Connor Watson going forward, whether it's Brock Lamb to start because Watson is so versatile and can come off the bench and play hooker and give that spell. Whether Brock Lamb starts on the bench some weeks and comes on at six and Watson goes into nine to give Danny Levi a break, we'll have to wait and see.

"Most coaches are looking towards that 80-minute hooker so if Danny Levi can get that out the 9-7-6-1 could be the future for the Knights.

"They don't have a massive pack so those guys coming in like Ese'ese and Lillyman gives them a bit more beef but those bench positions will be up for grabs, especially with such a young side. The staples will stay the same.

"Probably the guy under the most pressure is going to be Connor Watson. He's coming to a new club, hasn't played a lot of six where he's the guy every week at six so there's going to be a lot of pressure on him to run the ball and create points outside Mitchell Pearce."

NRL.com's predicted Round 1 team:

1 Kalyn Ponga, 2 Nathan Ross, 3 Tautau Moga, 4 Sione Mata'utia, 5 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 6 Connor Watson, 7 Mitchell Pearce, 8 Jacob Lillyman, 9. Slade Griffin, 10 Daniel Saifiti, 11 Aidan Guerra, 12 Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 13 Mitch Barnett. Interchange: 14 Danny Levi, 15 Chris Heighington, 16 Jacob Saifiti, 17 Jamie Buhrer. Reserves: 18 Brock Lamb, 19 Herman Ese'ese, 20 Luke Yates, 21 Ken Sio.