SAM Stone says he couldn’t imagine playing for any club other than the Newcastle Knights. Not even after they sacked his dad.
This weekend his father, former Knights coach Rick Stone, will be in England preparing Huddersfield for their opening game of the Super League season.
Sam, meanwhile, will be wearing a Newcastle jersey in senior company for the first time when he plays at the Auckland Nines tournament.
The 19-year-old back-rower will fulfill a dream that dates back to 2006, when Rick joined the Knights as assistant coach to Michael Hagan.
He spent the following decade with the club, as deputy to Hagan, Brian Smith and Wayne Bennett, and was in the head-coach hot seat over four seasons and 72 games before his tenure ended abruptly in 2015.
Rick’s resilience during a tough time convinced his two sons, Sam and Ben, to continue playing in Newcastle’s under-20s.
“He took it OK,’’ Sam told the Herald. “He just got back on the horse … I think it made it a lot easier on us that Dad took it well.
“If he was down in the dumps and angry with the Knights, it would have made it harder for us.
“But he was really mature with how he handled it. He realised that’s footy and comes with the job, and that made it easier for us to continue playing for the Knights.’’
A Valentine-Eleebana and Lakes United product who has been in Newcastle’s junior system since he was 15, Sam said: “I couldn’t see myself playing for any other club. I mean, I’ve grown up around the Knights ... I wouldn’t change a thing.
“I’m still happy to be at the Knights for as long as I possibly can.’’
Rick joined Huddersfield in July last year, almost 12 months after his contract with Newcastle was terminated. He steered the relegation-threatened Giants to safety and has since bolstered his squad by signing former Knights fullback Jake Mamo.
Sam said he spoke to his father after learning he had been selected in Newcastle’s Nines squad on Monday.
“He was pretty excited for me and pretty proud as well,’’ he said.
“He said this style of game, the speed and pace and skill, it will suit me.
“So he’s excited for me to get out and showcase what I can do.’’
A handy golfer who plays off single figures and won the Belmont junior club championship two years ago, Sam will combine football commitments this year with a surveying course at TAFE.
“To be up training with the top squad is very exciting and something that I’ve aspired to for a long time,’’ he said.
“I’m still eligible for 20s, so I think I’ll probably split my time across the grades, between 20s and NSW Cup.
“Getting picked for the Nines wasn’t something I expected would happen.
“I’ve just been training hard and taking everything as it comes.’’
At 194 centimetres, Sam towers over his father but hopes to add more bulk to his 100-kilogram frame.
“I think for me 105, 107kg would be my optimal weight,’’ he said.
“That’s going to take a couple of years. I’ve been working hard in the gym and I’ve probably put on four kilos since the end of last season.’’
While Sam is in Auckland with the Nines squad, 21 other Knights will play in a trial match against the Tweed Heads Seagulls on Saturday night.
Halfback Trent Hodkinson will captain the side.