HE has played only two NRL games in two years and would probably prefer to forget both of them.
But if Chanel Mata’utia has been out of sight, he is not out of mind, not as far as Knights coach Nathan Brown is concerned.
The second-eldest of the four brothers in Newcastle’s squad, Chanel debuted alongside his youngest sibling, Sione, in a memorable 16-12 win against the Roosters in July, 2014.
By the end of that season, both Chanel and Sione had played in seven games. Sione had scored seven tries and became the youngest player picked for the Kangaroos, playing three Tests in the Four Nations series.
Chanel, who had scored five tries, including a hat-trick against Parramatta, was entitled to believe he was also on the cusp of bigger and better things.
But the following season, he found James McManus and Akuila Uate forming a two-way road block.
He had to wait until round 20 for a top-grade opportunity, which unfortunately coincided with a 52-6 hammering from South Sydney – a result that cost then coach Rick Stone his job.
Reinstated for round one last season, the 24-year-old suffered knee-ligament damage playing against Gold Coast and has not appeared in the NRL since.
But after extensive rehab and physio, the 105-kilogram former Australian Schoolboy now appears ready to state a case for selection and create a piece of history by potentially joining brothers Sione, Peter and Pat in the same Newcastle line-up for the first time.
“Hopefully people like Chanel Mata’utia can have a bit more luck with injuries,’’ Brown said.
“He hurt his knee after two minutes in round one against Gold Coast and never got back.
“We’re quite hopeful of Chanel having a good year.’’
In saying that, Brown acknowledged there would be “a lot more competition than there was last year’’ for positions in his backline.
“With Chanel coming back, we’ve added Kenny Sio and Jacob Gagan from Cronulla … Pete Mata’utia and Brendan Elliot came mid-year [in 2016], so we’re definitely a lot stronger this year than we were at this stage last year,’’ Brown said.
“Not only in quality, but also in terms of experience as well.’’
Mata’utia will be hoping to snare a spot in Newcastle’s 18-player squad for the Auckland Nines (February 4-5).
The Knights’ only top-grade trial is against Canberra at Seiffert Oval on Saturday, February 18.