INCOMING Knights coach Rick Stone hopes prop Sam Mataora is selected in the NRL squad in the final two games of the season to enhance his chances of earning a new contract.
The 23-year-old Cook Islands international scored a try in an impressive performance in Newcastle’s 42-18 NSW Cup victory over Manly at No.2 Sportsground yesterday, giving the Knights an opportunity to secure a top-four berth with one round remaining.
Mataora, who joined the Knights from Canberra before the June 30 transfer deadline, is also on Brisbane’s radar, sparking media speculation of a tug of war between Newcastle and soon-to-be former coach Wayne Bennett for his services.
The Newcastle Herald has been told the Broncos had already expressed interest in Mataora before he left the Raiders to join the Knights, but that will do little to silence anyone who wants to suggest Bennett wants to take a Newcastle player back to Brisbane with him.
The Knights have made Mataora an offer, understood to be for two seasons, but he indicated after yesterday’s win that he was undecided about his future.
‘‘When I first came here, I didn’t know anyone but I’ve pretty much settled in now. It’s a good spot and I’m fitting in with the boys,’’ Mataora told the Herald.
‘‘I’m just waiting for my manager to get back to me.
‘‘I’ve got a family back home in Canberra – I’ve got a little four-month-old girl – and I’m not sure if they want to move up here or stay there.
‘‘I’d be happy to stay here. It’s a good spot. I’m just at Merewether there, so I’m pretty much at the beach every day.’’
Born in Rarotonga, Mataora said he moved to Brisbane with his family when he was 11 and graduated to the Raiders’ senior ranks through Queensland Cup feeder club Souths Logan.
He was 19 when he made his debut against the Warriors in May 2010, but the last of his 33 NRL appearances was in a 36-22 loss to Manly in Canberra one year ago today.
Stone, who will replace Bennett in charge of the Knights at the end of the season, wants to restock the front-row reserves and hopes Mataora fills one of those spots.
The NSW Cup coach was impressed with him and prop partner Pat Vaivai yesterday and said Mataora had improved steadily with every game in Newcastle colours.
‘‘I thought Sam’s game today was a real good game for us, and he might get a go before the year’s out. He’s probably only played six to eight games with the NSW Cup side, but I think he’s shown enough to say he’s got a bit in the future,’’ Stone said.
‘‘Obviously he’s played about 30 games at the Raiders, and he hasn’t played first grade for a couple of years because of injuries and a few different reasons, but maybe there’s an opportunity for him to cement a place considering front row is an area where we need to boost our stocks for next year.
‘‘I understand there’s a few clubs interested in him, and Brisbane is probably home for him originally coming out of the Souths Logan system, but he’s pretty comfortable here.
‘‘He’s enjoying Newcastle, and he’s getting more and more confident with the boys each week, and hopefully he can see a future for himself here.’’
The Knights overcame a sloppy start and a 12-6 deficit to lead 18-12 at the break. Manly five-eighth Jack Littlejohn levelled the scores at 18-all with a converted try in the 49th minute but Newcastle dominated the final half-hour with 24 unanswered points.
Fullback Nathan Ross did nothing to harm his chances of a new contract when he crossed for four tries in the space of 20 minutes in the final quarter.
Newcastle’s sixth straight win, and ninth from their past 10 games, lifted them to third (32 points) on points difference behind Penrith (42) and Wentworthville (34).
They will climb to second if they beat 10th-placed Newtown (27) at Hunter Stadium next Saturday, and the Panthers down Wentworthville at Penrith.
● The Knights (36 points) stayed on top of the National Youth Cup ladder despite suffering a 36-16 loss to second-placed Brisbane (35) at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday.