Little-known utility Jaelen Feeney has been anointed as the man to replace the big boots of Newcastle legend Kurt Gidley as fullback this NRL season.
New coach Nathan Brown all but confirmed the 21-year-old rookie would start in the No.1 jumper in next week’s season-opener against Gold Coast, despite never playing a senior game in the position.
Feeney hasn’t even made his NRL debut, but Brown insisted that it wasn’t a gamble.
“Gamble is when you don’t know anything about something. Gambling is betting on race horses. I’d call it an educated opinion,” Brown said.
“We have seen Jaelen at training and we’re very comfortable in his ability as a player. He sees the game very well and his training has improved, and he’s a good natural football player.”
The halfback of the club’s NSW Cup premiership-winning team last year, the Nerang Roosters junior only got his first taste as a custodian in last week’s trial loss to Canberra.
Brown admitted it was a mixed performance from his project fullback, but was eager to persist through any teething periods, leaving rising star Jake Mamo to start the season on the wing.
“(Feeney) played against the Raiders the other day and he had some really good parts to his game and he had some parts where his inexperience at fullback showed,” he said.
“All the training in the world doesn’t prepare you for playing, so I can imagine he’ll only improve next week and I’d imagine as the weeks go on he’ll continue to improve.”
Gidley isn’t the only big-name player to leave the club, with 998 games of NRL experience vacating through him, Beau Scott, Chris Houston, Clint Newton and David Fa’alogo alone.
It’s left Brown without an obvious choice for captain, and there has been speculation the new coach will name three captains with recruit Trent Hodkinson, veteran Jeremy Smith and second-rower Tariq Sims tipped to share the leadership.
The Knights open their season against the Titans on March 6.