It took an impromptu 20 minute chat immediately after training at the club’s headquarters at Mayfield this week to convince Newcastle coach Nathan Brown that Sione Mata’utia is ready for a return to the centres in 2018.
As the rest of the squad left the training paddock in dribs and drabs at the end of another tough session, Brown and Mata’utia camped themselves on the ground out in the middle in deep discussion.
Brown later revealed he was sounding Mata’utia out about a move back to the centres in 2018.
“I just wanted to find out how he was travelling,”Brown said.
“He’s had a bit on his plate with the concussion stuff and I wanted to see how he was going. We’ve had him training in the centres since he started full contact sessions and I wanted to know how he felt about moving back there.
“I wanted to make sure he was comfortable with it because I know he really liked playing in the back row.”
Brown indicated Mata’utia, who has been given the all-clear by a Melbourne concussion expert to resume his career following a spate of head-knocks, just wants to get out there and play.
“Sione’s fine. He wants to do what is best for the team,”Brown said.
“He really enjoyed the back row but he’s now looking forward to the prospect of moving a bit further out.”
Brown has made no secret of the club’s desire to sign another top-class centre to partner Brisbane Broncos recruit Tautau Moga following the loss of Dane Gagai to South Sydney.
But there has been no urgency with Mata’utia viewed as a strong option and the club well off for back-row depth following the recruitment of Aidan Guerra.
Asked if he would still pursue a centre, Brown said: “Ideally, yes but at this stage, the rosters at most clubs appear to be pretty stable so unless something changes, we’ll be going with our current squad.”
Ironically, more than three years after he played three Tests on the wing for the Kangaroos as an 18-year-old, Mata’utia has been added to coach Brad Fittler’s 39-member NSW Emerging Blues squad.
He will join Knights teammates Brock Lamb, Connor Watson and Daniel Saifiti at the training camp.
The squad will assemble at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Saturday for a session with Fittler and assistant coach Danny Buderus.
Origin legends including Andrew Johns, Craig Fitzgibbon, Matt King, Mark O’Meley and Anthony Minichiello will also be involved.
“These players will be the backbone of the NSW Origin team going forward,”Fittler said.