THE two-season contract extension he signed this week would suggest Sam Stone features prominently in the Newcastle Knights’ long-term plans.
Now his goal is to ensure he’s an integral part of their immediate future.
The towering 20-year-old was one of Newcastle’s real finds last season, appearing in 16 NRL games and scoring two tries.
But a quick head count is a reminder that he can take nothing for granted heading into his second top-grade campaign.
Fellow back-rowers Jamie Buhrer and Sione Mata’utia were co-captains last season, while former Roosters grand final-winner Aidan Guerra would appear a certain starter.
Throw in the vastly improved Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Mitch Barnett, Luke Yates and former Melbourne utility forward Slade Griffin, and Knights coach Nathan Brown has no shortage of options.
“There’s definitely a lot of good players in that back-row position,” Stone told the Newcastle Herald.
“We’ve got new recruits coming in like Aidan Guerra, who’s a very experienced player, and I think that competition for spots is only going to make us all better.
“It will make us train harder and work harder, and that will benefit everyone in the team.”
The 1.94-metre Stone has identified two areas he needs to improve to give himself the best chance of regular selection.
“First of all, during the pre-season, I think it’s really important for me to put on a bit of weight and a bit of size,” he said.
“I’m about 100 kilograms now. Getting to about 103 would be a personal goal.
“The other key point for me will be my tackle technique and wrestle. That’s very important for me and what I’ll be focusing on.”
Adding muscle to his lean frame has proven easier said than done for the former Valentine-Eleebana junior and son of former Knights coach Rick Stone.
“Partly it’s natural growing, but you can speed up the process with good diet and good work ethic in the gym,” he said. “So I’m working really hard in the gym and eating as much good food as I can, and hopefully that pays dividends.”
Stone is one of a host of Knights locked in until at least the end of 2020, joining Guerra, Barnett, Kalyn Ponga, Connor Watson, Tautau Moga, Daniel and Jacob Saifiti, Danny Levi, Nathan Ross and Herman Ese’ese.
“It makes it probably a little bit easier for us all knowing that it’s going to be the same sore group developing together,” Stone said.
“I think the future of the Knights is looking very, very promising with all the boys that have re-signed.”
Stone said he never wanted to leave the Knights but consulted his father before re-signing.
“I just asked him for a little bit of advice during this whole process and I definitely took that on board,” Stone said.
“He left the decision up to me, but he just helped the process move along a bit quicker.
“He didn’t point me in any direction, because he said it was my decision at the end of the day. But I always felt Newcastle was the best fit for me.”