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Knights aim to halt Hynes’ hot start

They’ve been the two most impressive playmakers to start the 2022 NRL season yet neither Cronulla’s Nicho Hynes and Newcastle’s Jake Clifford have taken orthodox routes to get there.

The pair have endured differing journeys to become regulars at NRL level and will square off when the Sharks host the Knights on Friday.

Both sides have won two and lost one to start the season and Clifford and Hynes have been standouts – they are tied third with Canberra’s Jack Wighton in the Dally M Medal standings with six points each.

There was plenty of hype around Clifford when he made his debut for North Queensland and dubbed as the heir to Johnathan Thurston.

Whether it was age, experience or playing behind a struggling forward pack, he never really fired and was moved on to the Knights by Todd Payten last year.

Hynes by contrast was plucked out of the Melbourne after battling away in the Queensland Cup and starred as a fill-in fullback for the Storm last year.

Hynes arrived at the Sharks with plenty of scepticism over his move to the halves but he, like Clifford, has started 2022 in fine touch.

While Hynes wears the No.7, his roaming off-the-cuff style is more akin to that of a traditional five-eighth which makes him all the more a troublesome prospect for Knights coach Adam O’Brien.

“With the ball they’re very dangerous,” O’Brien said.

“They’ve got a spine that like to run the ball and I expect them to run the ball, given the conditions.

“We need to make sure that we are applying enough pressure to those spine players.

“They’ve also got really good go-forward in their pack so their halves are always on the front foot so it’ll be a good test.”

The Knights will travel to a wet and blustery Shark Park without Mitch Barnett following his six-game suspension for elbowing Chris Smith, with the club also celebrating Tyson Frizell’s 200th NRL game.

Clifford has looked at home when partnered with halfback Adam Clune, and the Knights are likely to be aided by the return of fullback Kalyn Ponga on Friday.

“They’ll be a handful,” said Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon.

“They look like they’re combining really well through their spine as well.

“And obviously Kalyn is a difficult player to handle.

“But their halves combinations have been pretty impressive so far.”

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