HOW far out of favour has Brock Lamb fallen?
By Tuesday afternoon we might have a clearer answer to that particular mystery, when Newcastle Knights coach Nathan Brown names his squad for the trip to Auckland to face the Warriors.
Brown admitted after Friday’s 25-16 loss to Wests Tigers that first-choice halves Mitchell Pearce and Connor Watson were both in extreme doubt. Watson has missed the past two games with a groin injury, while Pearce suffered a badly corked thigh against the Tigers.
“The fact it was a real nasty one and we’ve got a plane flight doesn’t help,” Brown said.
“I wouldn’t say he [Pearce] is 100 per cent certain, anyway. I suppose we’ll know a little bit more in the next few days, but our strike rate with those key players hasn’t been so flash.”
Brown added that it was unlikely Watson would be available, which could leave the Knights relying on a stopgap halves pairing.
Jack Cogger, who has been impressive as Watson’s replacement in the past two games, is one standout candidate, but Brown sounded far from convinced on Friday about the prospect of recalling Lamb.
Brown said he had seen only the first half of Newcastle’s 16-6 win against Mounties in NSW Cup on Friday and was unsure if Lamb had “earned the right to play first grade again.”
The coach then added: “We’re not in the business of giving away first-grade jumpers any more at this club.”
This time last year, Lamb was regarded as Newcastle’s No.1 playmaker. Now there seems no guarantee he is even in their top four.
During a breakout 2017, he played in 21 games, scored five tries and produced a team-high 10 try assists to finish with Newcastle’s rookie-of-the-year award. He was also a finalist in the voting for the Dally M rookie prize, won by Canberra’s Nick Cotric.
At the corresponding stage of last year, he starred in successive wins against St George Illawarra, the Warriors and Parramatta.
The arrival of Pearce and Watson was always likely to impact on Lamb’s opportunities, but Newcastle’s powers-that-be maintained the former Australian Schoolboy was still an important member of their squad, refusing to entertain any requests for an early release.
Brown chose him in the top grade for the first six games of the year, firstly off the bench and then as five-eighth when Watson suffered a shoulder injury.
Since then the 21-year-old has played only two more NRL games, and none since the round-11 loss to Gold Coast Titans, in which he suffered a fractured cheekbone, sidelining him for two weeks.
With four games left and the Knights dead and buried in the race for the finals, it might be an opportune time to give Lamb another chance to show his wares – and perhaps state a case for a new contract in the process.
Should he be overlooked again this week, who knows when – or indeed if – we’ll see the Maitland junior in a red-and-blue jersey again.