Nathan Brown has defended his shock axing of Newcastle star Trent Hodkinson, saying it'll provide a chance to test a new halves combination.

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The halfback - the Knights' captain and one their highest-paid players - was dropped for Saturday's NRL clash with North Queensland.

Coach Brown said Hodkinson's form was down but his absence would have an added benefit of providing clearer direction in their bid to snare a big name.

But it's a curious move given recent failed attempts to sign stars Kieran Foran and Jack Bird - players expected to complement Hodkinson in an inexperienced Knights backline.

The former NSW No.7 has been replaced by five-game rookie Jaelen Feeney.

"He's a touch down on confidence and we've got some other options we want to have a look at," Brown told Sky Sports Radio on Friday.

"We've got a lot of big recruitment decisions we're in the midst to trying to make."

Hodkinson is contracted at Newcastle until the end of 2018 and has been battling an ongoing knee injury.

The playmaker, who last turned out for NSW in 2015, has been found wanting in defence of late and was exposed again in Newcastle's last-round 24-6 loss to Sydney Roosters.

Dane Gagai is a chance to take the captain's reins.

Brown is keeping his fingers crossed they finally nab a marquee has he maintains faith once they sign one big-name player, more will follow.

He said Foran's family situation prevented the Knights securing the Warrior.

His wishlist includes two a playmaker, two experience forwards and a tall outside back, with Newcastle reportedly armed more than $1 million to spend under the salary cap

"We're certainly showing a bit of money but it doesn't seem to be working at the moment," Brown said.

AAP

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