Departing Newcastle Knights fullback Nick Meaney has been given three training sessions by coach Nathan Brown to win a head-to-head shootout with Connor Watson for the No1 jumper against Parramatta on Friday week.
Meaney, who is bound for the Bulldogs next season on a three year deal, is yet to make his NRL debut but won’t get a better chance to convince the coach he is ready to step up with regular fullback Kalyn Ponga sidelined for up to a month with a hamstring injury.
Brown indicated on Tuesday Meaney and Watson were the two contenders for the job.
Watson came up with two tries against Canterbury last Saturday night in one of his best performances for the club after being pushed back to fullback when Ponga limped off early.
Previously, he has filled in at the back with distinction for the Sydney Roosters.
But Meaney has been knocking on the door for a top grade call-up with Brown declaring the 20-year-old’s decision to link with the Bulldogs won’t affect his chances of getting the nod.
In an indication Brown may be leaning towards Watson, Meaney has been named in the club’s NSW Cup side for Saturday’s clash against the Newtown Jets.
But there is no guarantee he will play with the coach adamant he hasn’t made a final decision on the makeup of the NRL side.
“I’m honestly not sure which way we’ll go with the fullback spot yet,”Brown said.
“It will come down to how they train over the next few sessions and we’ll make a decision early next week.
“Connor has obviously played there before at times for the Roosters and he did a really good job for us at the back when Kalyn went off.
“But Nick’s a specialist fullback who has had a number of games back in reserve grade and done well after an early season injury so there is a bit to consider.”
Either way, Watson will be in the starting side against the Eels.
If he is chosen at fullback, Brown is expected to reunite the returning Mitchell Pearce with Jack Cogger in the halves.
But if Meaney is handed his debut, Cogger will miss out with Watson at five-eighth outside Pearce against the Eels.
Pearce and Cogger were in the halves the night Newcastle came from behind in the second half for one of their best wins of the season to beat the Wests Tigers at Tamworth at a time when the Tigers were riding high.
It was also the night Pearce tore his pectorial muscle, requiring surgery and ruling him out for 12 weeks.
His return can’t come soon enough, particularly with the loss of Ponga, and he is considered a certain starter against the Eels barring another mishap.
He was involved in a intense contact session on Tuesday and came through it without any problems and will have the benefit of another four training sessions leading into the Eels game.
Another player almost certain to return against the Eels is centre Nathan Ross after he made a successful comeback from injury in NSW Cup.
Ross was not selected in the NSW Cup side for the Jets clash but neither was youngster Cory Denniss, the player most likely to drop out of the side for the Eels for Ross.