It is, without doubt one of the more intriguing questions hanging over this NRL pre-season.

Following Mitchell Pearce's departure from the Newcastle Knights to take up a contract with the Catalan Dragons in France, Adam O'Brien will look internally to replace the star half.

Jake Clifford has arrived from the North Queensland Cowboys and will continue the role he played in the final weeks of the 2021 season, but there is no guarantee on who lines up alongside him.

All of Adam Clune, Phoenix Crossland, Kurt Mann and debutant star of the future Simi Sasagi have been offered as potential options to win a starting spot in Newcastle's Round 1 team when they begin their season with a tough assignment away from home against the Sydney Roosters, before taking on the Wests Tigers, Penrith Panthers and Cronulla Sharks in the opening month of the season.

While it has been rumoured Crossland is being trained as a lock in an effort to have him replace Connor Watson, who departed for the Sydney Roosters, he has told The Newcastle Herald that he or Clune will likely line up in the halves for the Knights in Round 1.

Clune arrived from the St George Illawarra Dragons during the off-season.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 14: Adam Clune of the Dragons takes on the defence during the round one NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Cronulla Sharks at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, on March 14, 2021, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

"The good thing about Clunes is when he first come here, he wasn't replacing Mitchell Pearce and was another older head I could learn off," Crossland said.

"Although we compete very hard at training and there has been a bit of talk around who is going to get it ... at the end of the day it's good competition and whoever gets it, has earned it, because we've both been training extremely hard.

"You can tell he has a point to prove as well coming from the Dragons, sort of being in the same boat as me on the cusp of playing each week. It might be a bit hard to believe that I'm not salty about him being here, but it's actually the complete opposite - I'm stoked he is here and I know he is going to make a massive difference to this team."

O'Brien's decision will be a critical one, with the Knights desperate to improve their attack after posting the second-worst record in the competition last year.

Despite that, they snuck into the finals, however, there is a widely held belief that the side will need to improve with the football in hand if they are to once again play knockout football in September.

The Knights will play pre-season trial matches against the Canterbury Bulldogs at home, and the Melbourne Storm in Ballarat in the lead up to Round 1, with the battle between Clune and Crossland for a starting spot in Round 1 likely to feature heavily.