CHANEL Mata’utia might have been out of sight, and out of mind, for the best part of two years.
But nobody needed to remind his eldest sibling of what he had to offer, given the chance.
“I believe he could be the best out of the four of us,” Peter Mata’utia said after Sunday’s 20-18 loss to Canterbury, which was Chanel’s first NRL game in 16 months.
Since debuting alongside youngest brother Sione in late 2014, Chanel has endured a torrid time.
In his first seven top-grade games, he scored five tries, including a hat-trick when marking up against Parramatta superstar Semi Radradra.
Then in seasons 2015 and 2016, he made just one appearance apiece, as knee, shoulder and hamstring injuries continually set him back.
Last season he could only watch from the stands as Peter, Sione and their other brother, Pat, featured regularly in Newcastle’s top team.
But on Sunday, the 24-year-old was not about to waste his opportunity after earning a long-awaited recall.
Playing outside Peter and Sione on Newcastle’s left edge, he scored a try, made 132 metres in attack and hit Bulldogs winger Marcelo Montoya with a tackle that rattled his teeth.
“He’s a big boy, got good footwork, hard to handle out of yardage,’’ Peter said. “He helps us get forward, gets our sets started ... it’s just been his injuries.’’
Knights coach Nathan Brown said Chanel was “a talent” who had plenty of scope for improvement.
“If he gets his life away from footy – his diet – if he gets all that right, there’s a good footballer inside Chanel Mata’utia,’’ Brown said.
“I’ve got no doubt about that at all.
“He needs a little bit of luck to go his way and he needs to make some right decisions himself. But he had a great impact out there [against Canterbury] and I’d be hopeful he can have a little run where he can play a number of games in a row.’’
Peter said that, in his junior years, Chanel was happy to “go with the flow”, and for that reason he was overlooked for representative teams.
“But I think now it’s starting to kick in, that if he really wants it, he’s got to work hard for it,’’ Peter said.
Reflecting on Sunday’s game, Chanel felt he was “a bit rusty” and was disappointed that Montoya scored a try down his edge.
But he also exuded a sense of relief and satisfaction.
“After all the injuries, it’s good to be back,’’ he said. “I’ve been fighting to get back up there since the start of last season. I’ve just to keep working hard and knuckle down. I need to be more consistent in “D”, but it was a good first hit-out.’’