JUST like NSW coach Ricky Stuart, Knights playmaker Jarrod Mullen is certain teammate Aku Uate will be back for the Blues before too long.
Until then, Mullen said the Blues’ loss will be Newcastle’s gain because Uate’s omission from the NSW team for the Origin decider in Brisbane next Wednesday means he is free to play for the Knights against the Eels at Parramatta Stadium on Saturday night.
In the only change to the team that started in Newcastle’s 38-20 upset of Wests Tigers at home on Monday night, coach Wayne Bennett named Peter Mata’utia at fullback to replace Queensland Origin winger Darius Boyd.
Bennett named a six-man bench, adding Chris Adams and Kevin Naiqama to the four interchange players used against the Tigers.
Stuart agonised over the decision to replace Uate with St George Illawarra’s Brett Morris, then rang the Fijian-born flyer on Sunday to break the bad news.
‘‘The message I got from him straight after I hung up was that, ‘I can’t wait to join camp at the back end of the week to see all the boys and the staff,’ so he is a terrific young man, and I stress that he won’t be out for too long,’’ Stuart said on Sunday.
The Dally M winger of the year for the past two seasons, Uate responded on Monday with 17 runs for 169 metres – both game highs – and by scoring the first of Newcastle’s six tries.
Mullen, who played alongside Uate in the 2005 Australian Schoolboys, was not surprised.
‘‘I thought he went tremendous last night, Aku. He really charged the ball back and he really gets the crowd going,’’ Mullen said yesterday.
‘‘He’s very disappointed he didn’t get in the side but hopefully he can show the selectors what they’re missing.
‘‘I’m confident he’ll get back. He’s a great player, Aku ... he’s learning more and more every week about the game, and I’m sure he’ll be back there.’’
In their only appearances for NSW, Mullen and Knights left winger James McManus played the first games of the 2007 and 2009 Origin series respectively. Mullen (calf) and McManus (ankle) were injured and unavailable for selection for the second games of those series.
Uate, Mullen and McManus are three of eight players with Origin experience in the Newcastle team named to play the Eels, who will be without NSW left winger Jarryd Hayne.
That leaves skipper Nathan Hindmarsh, props Tim Mannah and Justin Poore and centre Willie Tonga as their Origin representatives, though prop Fuifui Moimoi (New Zealand) and bench utility Reni Maitua (Australia) are internationals.