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Saifiti a shock inclusion to face Dragons

Knights giant Daniel Saifiti hopes to return against St George Illawarra at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday, just three weeks after suffering what he initially feared was a season-ending knee injury.

The 22-year-old Fijian international, who has been named on the bench in place of James Gavet, thought his year was over before it began as he was helped from the field in the 46th minute of Newcastle's 14-8 round one victory over Cronulla.

Knights coach Nathan Brown is expected to give the imposing prop until their final training run on Saturday to prove his fitness. If ruled out, he is confident he will return against Manly in Newcastle on April 13 – a far cry from the prospect of sitting out the season after just 23 minutes in the middle.

"I'm pushing for this week against the Dragons. Fingers crossed, I'm ready for that, but if not, maybe the week after," Saifiti told

"I was disappointed about it because I had good trial form, so to get injured in the first round, it's not ideal, but at the same time it was the best outcome from a bad situation.

"My first thought was that it was bad, maybe season-ending, then to find out it would only be two games, I thought, 'It's not the end of the world'.

Knights prop Daniel Saifiti injured his knee in round one against Cronulla.
Knights prop Daniel Saifiti injured his knee in round one against Cronulla. ©Paul Barkley/NRL Photos

"I had heaps of thoughts going through my head at first then I did the knee test and they thought it didn't look too bad, then the first scans turned out all right, so hopefully it's only going to be two weeks."

After the initial scare, Saifiti was diagnosed with low-grade medial collateral ligament damage in his knee and bruising in his foot. He had started on the bench against the Sharks and replaced Gavet in the 23rd minute, making 12 tackles and eight runs for 68 metres.

"It was just friendly fire. I was making a tackle and one of my team-mates just swung around and hit me in the leg," he explained.

"I'm probably 50-50 at the moment so we'll see how we go at the captain's run. We've got two home games in a row so hopefully I'm back for one or both of them."

Gavet was not considered for selection because of a sternum injury. Herman Ese'ese, named as one of four extra reserves, would be the likely replacement on the bench if Saifiti is ruled out.

Saifiti has been a frustrated spectator during his rehabilitation, watching from the sidelines as the Knights have suffered narrow losses to the Panthers (16-14) and Raiders (17-10), but he has seen enough to feel encouraged that they are not far away from a dominant 80-minute performance.

"It's always easy sitting at home or at the game watching, saying this or that, but the boys are putting in the effort every week," he said.

Ponga set for switch back to fullback

"It's only a few dropped balls and a few other things we need to fix, but last weekend down at Canberra we didn't play good at all and only lost by seven points down there to a good team, so you’ve got to take the positives with the negatives."

As expected, Kalyn Ponga will return to fullback and Brown named former New Zealand Warriors playmaker Mason Lino to make his Newcastle debut as the new five-eighth.

Lino has been declared fit after suffering a knee injury in Newcastle's Canterbury Cup NSW loss to Penrith on March 23. His inclusion means former Dragons utility Kurt Mann will return to the bench.

"It's always good coming up against your old club, and there's always a bit of banter getting chucked around, but they've come off the back of a good win on the weekend," said.

"They got over the Broncos up there, which is always pretty hard to do, so I'm pretty sure they’ll be full of confidence coming into this."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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