The Newcastle Knights' hopes of making the top eight at the end of the 2023 NRL season have taken a major blow with an ACL injury sustained by star hooker Jayden Brailey.

The injury continues Brailey's wretched run with injuries, where he has had just one full season since joining the Knights ahead of the 2020 campaign.

In that time, he has now suffered two ACL injuries and an Achilles injury, leaving him with less than 40 games across his four seasons.

While Brailey, who injured his Achilles in the pre-season ahead of the 2021 season, had suitable back-up last time around in Chris Randall, that is no longer the case in 2023.

Randall has since shifted to the Gold Coast Titans, where he is currently starting with Sam Verrills out injured. In return, the Knights received winger Greg Marzhew from the Titans, and didn't make any play to increase their own dummy half depth.

That has left coach Adam O'Brien to rely on the duo of Phoenix Crossland and Kurt Mann to fill the role in Round 7 against the Penrith Panthers, and likely until they are able to make another signings with one of their remaining squad spots for the 2023 campaign.

While Crossland and Mann will likely do a serviceable job, neither are going to be the number nine Newcastle need if they want to hang onto their better than expected start to the new season and fight to play in the finals come September.

Granted, no option that might be immediately available will help either, but a genuine number nine with NRL experience will help their cause, and allow Mann and Crossland to continue playing in a utility role that they are far better suited to.

Here are the top five options for the Knights to be chasing in immediately replacing Brailey, noting that these players could either be on loan, or for a short-term contract.

4. Zac Woolford (Canberra Raiders)

This is a long shot at best, and would likely need to be a loan only approved from the date of Danny Levi's departure, making it quite probably not an overly realistic option for the men from the Hunter.

But in terms of raw talent, he might be the best player on this list.

Woolford, who made his debut for the Raiders in the middle of the 2022 season, quickly became part of the starting team for Ricky Stuart, with Tom Starling reduced to a bench role.

That hasn't continued into the 2023 season though, with Woolford finding himself in reserve grade after the acquisition of Danny Levi, who took starting duties.

Levi is currently out injured and due back in about a month, but he could slot straight back into the side then, leaving Woolford on the outer again.

A short-term loan to cover the remainder of the season could suit both clubs.