NEWCASTLE Knights coach Adam O'Brien has bristled at suggestions he is disrespecting the Sydney Roosters and is willing to sacrifice two competition points by resting players including star fullback Kalyn Ponga for Saturday night's clash against the defending premiers at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
As expected, Ponga has been given the weekend off with O'Brien opting to also rest lock Mitch Barnett and winger Hymel Hunt from the side that thrashed the Sharks 38-10 to cement a spot in the finals for the first time in seven years.
Their loss has been offset by the return of prop Daniel Saifiti, winger Edrick Lee and backrower Sione Mata'utia from long-term injuries.
Mata'utia was named on the extended bench but is likely to play at the expense of Brodie Jones while Tex Hoy comes into the squad at fullback for Ponga.
O'Brien, a former Batemans Bay Tiger, has resisted the temptation to also rest senior players, skipper Mitchell Pearce and pack leader David Klemmer, three weeks out from the finals.
The Knights coach angrily denied suggestions his decision to make four unforced changes to his side is disrespectful to the Roosters.
"Anyone who thinks that doesn't know me too well," O'Brien told Australian Community Media.
"I'd never do that. I'm not disrespecting anyone. It's certainly not about being complacent either and just going down there to go through the motions and not really compete and not worry about the result.
"Seriously, if I was thinking along those lines, I would have pulled more of the boys out. We'll be going down there hellbent on performing at our best and winning the game.
"I've got full faith in Tex who I think is a great prospect for us and the other three are all NRL starting players so how is that throwing the game or being disrespectful to anyone."
The Knights remain in the hunt for a top four berth and want to finish as high up the ladder as they can to potentially enjoy the reward of hosting a finals game.
At the same time, O'Brien is mindful of ensuring all his fit players are battled-hardened and ready to produced their best when their season is on the line in the big end-of-season games.
"It's been a pretty tough campaign for all the boys given the injuries we've had to deal with and all the traveling we've had to do," he said.
"Kalyn is obviously a little bit banged up from the Sharks game but I said earlier in the week I've been considering giving him a spell for three or four weeks now simply because of the kilometres he's been churning through at fullback.
"Barney's got that sternum issue and some other niggles - nothing too serious but they'll just hang around for the rest of the year if you keep putting him out there.
"And Hymel, well he hasn't missed a game in two seasons. That's why I've given him this one off just to freshen him up a bit."
O'Brien admitted he has also been considering finding a week off for both Pearce and Klemmer but has opted against it.
"I've decided rather then to rest them for a game, I'll give them extra time off between games,"he said.
"Quite a few of the boys I haven't seen since the Sharks game on Friday night and I won't see them until training tomorrow [Wednesday]."
O'Brien is also keen for Pearce to play as many games as possible with five-eighth Mason Lino leading into the finals.
"I think it's important we've got some cohesion, especially around the halves with Mason [Lino] and Junior [Pearce] playing together," he said.
"I'm not trying to be too clever with this. But the thing I don't want to do is get to the finals and turn around and have to tap a bloke on the shoulder and tell him he's playing when he hasn't played for 15 weeks.
"The three guys I'm bringing back in from injury probably would have been there anyway had they not got injured. Like I said, they are all starting NRL players."