KNIGHTS National Youth Cup coach Mick Crawley knew Joseph Boyce was his kind of player when the kid refused to shake his hand after a pre-season trial last year.
Just 18 at the time, the slightly built Sunshine Coast junior was trying out for one of a handful of spots in Newcastle’s under20s squad and had played himself to a standstill.
‘‘He reminded me of Dallas Johnson, who I’d worked with at the Cowboys,’’ said Crawley, who spent three years as an assistant to Neil Henry at North Queensland before joining Wayne Bennett’s coaching staff in Newcastle in 2012.
‘‘The reason I signed him at the start, we had an open trial and no one else liked the look of ‘Boycey’, but I just liked the way he was bashing blokes.
‘‘I went up to shake his hand after the trial to congratulate him for having a good game and he couldn’t shake hands with me because his hand was broken. He’d broken it about four weeks previous, but he didn’t want to miss the trial, so straight away I just said to him, ‘You’re in’.
‘‘I was still umming and aahing until I went to shake his hand, but once I went to shake his hand and couldn’t, I knew straight away he was what I was looking for.
‘‘It’s taken him a little while to get there, but what he lacks in size, he certainly makes up for in ticker.’’
Crawley is banking on Boyce and pint-sized pack partners Luke Yates and James Taylor to take the fight to their heavyweight Warriors opponents in the NYC elimination semi-final at Allianz Stadium at 5.15pm today.
At stake is a place in a preliminary final against Parramatta at ANZ Stadium at 5.15pm next Saturday for the right to play in the grand final at ANZ on October 5.
Boyce, now 20 and in his second year in Newcastle, will start at lock.
Nineteen-year-old Yates will start in the front row, and 20-year-old Taylor, who joined the Knights from the Warriors mid-season, will relieve them off the bench.
‘‘Those three, Yates, Boyce and Taylor, they’re going to give away a lot of kilos and a lot of size to the Warrior boys, but I reckon they’ll be rattling them around the ribs pretty much for the whole game,’’ Crawley said. ‘‘They’re the sort of kids that people underestimate, and because of that, they get overlooked.
‘‘They don’t make the team of the year and they don’t get the big contracts offered to them or anything like that, but I don’t really think it worries them.
‘‘They’re just tough kids and they’re good to have around.
‘‘I know when the boys are looking around the change-room before they go out, I think they’re a lot more confident having those blokes sitting beside them than a few of the big names that get boasted about around the comp.’’
A Junior Kiwis representative from the Northcote Tigers club, Auckland-born Taylor joined the Knights in May on a deal that will keep him in Newcastle until the end of 2016.
Taylor played in the Warriors team beaten by Penrith in last year’s NYC decider.
A fortnight later, he and now Knights teammate Joseph Tapine represented the Junior Kiwis together against the Junior Kangaroos.
‘‘He’s a bit of a character,’’ Crawley said of Taylor. ‘‘He’s a bit like Yates and Boyce, in that they’re not what all the recruitment gurus say are the prototypes for young forwards.
‘‘They’re all a little bit short and a little bit stocky and a little bit odd but geez, they’ve got the killer instinct in them.
‘‘They don’t go out to try and be skilful, they just go out to bash ’em, and that’s what I really like about them.
‘‘James is a real upbeat kid, he comes from a really good family, and he’s a smart guy, but the boys like to poke a bit of fun at his accent and he doesn’t get Aussie slang at all, so he’s a lot of fun to have around training.
‘‘The first time he met Yatesy, he got real excited because he just liked the way he played, and he’s genuinely excited about playing with him.’’
A NSW under16s and under18s representative, Yates is a Wests Rosellas junior who played in Newcastle’s SG Ball (under18s) team last year before finishing the season in NYC.
‘‘I don’t think a lot of coaches would have Yates and Boyce in their starting side because they don’t fit the prototype of what they’re supposed to be,’’ Crawley said.
‘‘I sit and look at them after games and they’ve got strapping all over them and blood all over them, and everyone thinks they look a bit miserable, but I just admire them more and more.
‘‘They’re wonderful kids to have around, and because of that, I think they’ll make it.’’