Butts: Time for Newcastle Knights skipper Sione Mata'utia to take a rest

CAPTAIN'S KNOCK: Knights captain Sione Mata'utia receives treatment for a head knock playing against the Storm last weekend. Picture: Darren Pateman
CAPTAIN'S KNOCK: Knights captain Sione Mata'utia receives treatment for a head knock playing against the Storm last weekend. Picture: Darren Pateman

It is unlikely to be anything drastic in the short term, but the 18th man concept of resourcing an “extra” replacement player for a head injury will be high on the agenda of health and safety considerations over the NRL off-season.

It is a natural progression in a major recalibration taking place across the contact sport and insurance industry.

In such an atmosphere, where players publicly knock themselves around week in week out, it’s also natural that passionate fans take a view on the health of their favourite players.

Take the circumstances facing Knights captain Sione Mata’utia.

He is already out of the side this week in Canberra, and it will be no surprise if his medical minders don’t just advise he take another week and an entire off-season to recover after his most recent head injury assessment.

The impressive young Novocastrian can be one of the club’s greats. But with many long and arduous campaigns beyond this, his 20th year, I’d counsel, hasten slowly, young bull, if you’re to get there at all.

Right now he needs to tidy up some timing and target issues in defence, add to his powerful but relatively diminutive frame over the next six months and get away to rest and repair.

The young leader hasn’t missed a game all season and has been a prime mover in the team’s climb to credibility when it was sorely needed. Great job, skipper. What say you grab a shower and get out of here.

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The 44-12 drubbing last week didn't flatter the home team, but there were, as ever, avoidable moments that, if controlled, would have set up a far tighter contest.

Melbourne’s try on half-time was a killer. 10-6 was a truer reflection of the effort put in by both sides to that point.

In the play, I can't help thinking the inside “drift” defender was more interested in drawing a penalty for obstruction than tackling the guy with the ball. A miscalculation that hurt.

The other moment, when down 22-12, 56 minutes in and holding the advantage, we get penalised for obstruction from the Storm’s short kick-off. Omg. From where did the ref pluck that one? On cue, while all around wonder what happened, Melbourne attack and make it happen. Thirty seconds later they score, kick clear by three tries and effectively steal the match.

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Had to laugh after the game recalling in the lead-up Knights loyalists on hearing of Cooper Cronk’s forced lay-up.

‘No Cronk? You Beauty! That works for us. Who's his replacement?’

Turns out a mere five-game veteran potentially capable of emulating the great Cronk himself. His ‘Mini-me’ goes by the name of Brodie Croft and couldn’t have been more impressive leading his team around the park.

Bagging a swag of tries in the process, the Brisbane boy proved the Queensland Storm are harvesting well. All going well, those at the ISC last week will recall many years from now that they saw this bloke play as a kid.

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It was a sweet moment for late-season bloomer Lachlan Fitzgibbon as he set up departing Englishman Joe Wardle’s 55th-minute try last week.

With a four-pointer already under his belt and powering on the type of line that makes defenders uncomfortable, he happens to run smack into the Australian captain, and union president, Cam Smith.

Should he bow, excuse himself or drop his shoulder into the icon’s crook sternum and spin like a ballerina, escaping into the backfield? Deferring to his higher purpose, he applied the latter and, draw and pass, the pommie’s in under the sticks.

The local Souths product has touched down in the past three games, pressing his claims for standing within the playing fraternity and probable job security as a result. He looks to be enjoying his footy and will do well with another pre-season under his belt.

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For schoolboy rugby league in the Hunter, the season is all but over.

On Saturday the two remaining teams in every age and division slug it out to determine the best of season 2017. At stake, and far beyond the trophy and the team song, is a memory for a lifetime, one that will mark, for impressionable youngsters, a turning point in confidence and aspiration at an age when self-belief can be elusive.

So to all the players good enough to be running out in a grand final, I extend my best. Outside of bringing your ‘A’ game, all you need hope for is a soft oval, a referee who keeps both sides back and a group of teammates who turn up for each other. Outside side of that, play hard, play fair and may the best team win.

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Giving one’s employer access to their personal financial, phone and tax records is a leap into Orwell’s dystopian reality.

Sure, there may be reasons this is on the NRL’s list of must-haves in their negotiations with the players, but do they stack up?

“To defend the integrity of the game” and its gaming revenue is the reason cited. But is that enough to warrant such a fundamental intrusion?

Would it even work? Or is it all for show?

From what I can gather in this debate, there seems little reason to be so heavy-handed. A complete overreach, if you ask me, after a couple of minor issues over previous years, some where the clubs are complicit.

In which case should not the CEOs, football managers and board members be handing their private material into the NRL vortex? Given the NRL leaks like a sieve, is it possible they can even be trusted with such data?

What I’m struggling to understand is why corporate NRL seems to think they can subsume the nation’s common law to enforce private contractual matters that are corporate in nature. Normally, if someone breaches those terms and conditions, does the NRL not have civil remedies they can pursue, like the rest of us?

As one senior NSW legal figure outlined this week: “What are the evil crimes being investigated by the integrity unit that require personal phones to be handed over?” Bemused, he went on: “It's the integrity unit itself that has shown itself to operate without integrity.” Then he referred to a senior police service member who “laughed” when he heard of the demand to surrender phone records.

In short, the NRL’s position on these disclosures is the butt of jokes in most reasonable circles. All they are achieving is holding up negotiations with furphies they know the players won’t agree to – nor should they.

Or maybe we don’t give enough credit and it is a deliberate smokey to add public pressure and drag talks out beyond the completion of the current deal on October 31. At which point, the RLPA will be without guaranteed funding from the NRL. Ah-ha! Now it’s making sense. So much for good-faith bargaining.