Newcastle NRL legend Danny Buderus has backed Danny Levi to win the race for the Knights' hooking role and claim his famous No.9 jersey.
Levi is in a battle with recruit Kurt Mann for the 2019 starting role, with Slade Griffin's absence through a knee injury expected to extend through the first four months of the season.
A rising talent at Newcastle for the past four seasons, Levi is yet to spend a full year in the starting role after having played almost half of his 66-game career off the bench.
But Buderus, after working closely with Levi in junior grades, believes the 23-year-old Kiwi is ready to be Newcastle's first-choice dummy-half for their March 15 season opener against Cronulla.
"This is his time now," Buderus, who played 226 of his 257 games for Newcastle at hooker, told AAP.
"He knows he can play better as well. That also helps when you've got a different team around you which he has now.
"All these guys have had tough campaigns and the team has changed. (Coach) Nathan Brown has said this is the best team he's had since he's been here.
"Everything should rise; your performance should rise. He's (Levi's) got to lead the way and not overplay his hand and just play his natural game."
Buderus on Friday will help to kick off the annual Hogs for the Homeless motorcycle tour through regional NSW with Brad Fittler and other ex-players, which has previously raised $700,000 for Youth off the Streets.
Buderus works with Fittler at a junior and senior Origin level but, as an adviser to the Knights, his heart has remained this summer in Newcastle.
If Brown opted to start Levi at No.9, it would allow Mann to come off the bench as a utility, similar to his role at St George Illawarra last year when he filled in almost every position.
Uncapped rookie Zac Woolford would likely be in line for a debut off the bench if Mann was called into the starting line-up in any role throughout the season, with Jamie Buhrer another option.
"(Levi's) grown up in probably not the best time to be a Newcastle Knight as far as results go," Buderus said.
"His mindset will be to get those wins just to experience what the town is like when it's winning.
"A lot of these guys have been through the rigour and the hard times ... I really hope they get to experience that."
Australian Associated Press