Just like quite a few of his teammates, Sione Mata’utia is more than a little nervy and taking nothing for granted when it comes to selections for the Knights’ premiership-opener against the Sharks in just under five weeks time.
Only yesterday before teeing off in a Knights corporate golf day, he spoke about the possibility of missing selection and of not dropping his head and kicking stones if he doesn’t make the team.
But he can rest a little easier.
We’re hearing the Knights side for the Sharks clash is pretty close to being settled and he’ll be in the starting side.
Obviously, trial form against St George Illawarra and the Sharks will be a factor and potential injuries might change things somewhat.
But the mail is Mata’utia will be rewarded for an outstanding pre-season by winning a backrow spot alongside his fellow South Newcastle junior Lachlan Fitzgibbon.
An injury to either centre Jesse Ramien or Hymel Hunt would change that but at this stage, Mata’utia has been penciled in as a starting backrower.
With coach Nathan Brown apparently keen to partner David Klemmer with James Gavet in the frontrow and play Tim Glasby at lock, that leaves veteran Aidan Guerra, Daniel Safiti, Herman Ese’ese and Mitch Barnett vying for three bench spots.
Whoever ends up as 18th man at McDonald Jones Stadium on March 15 will consider themselves desperately unlucky.
New recruit Kurt Mann has a mortgage on the utility role on the bench ahead of Jamie Buhrer.
Mann has impressed everyone in wherever position he has filled at training. He is starting to look comfortable as a back-up hooker but his versatility is what will prove a huge bonus for Brown.
The back-line picks itself with Nathan Ross facing the prospect of trying to force his way back into the side from NSW Cup with Edrick Lee considered a certainty on the wing.
And a final tip: Young backrower Brodie Jones will make his NRL debut at some stage in 2019.
Kalyn Ponga admits he doesn’t know much about his Maori heritage which is why he is so committed to playing in the All Stars clash in Melbourne next Friday night.
Ponga and his Maori dad Andre are as close as any father and son are and he is keen to find out everything about the culture his dad grew up in over in New Zealand.
He says he is likely to feel emotional when he pulls on the jersey against the Indigenous All Stars because of his love and respect for his father.
It seems that bailing out the NRL and taking over the ownership of the Knights hasn’t been bad for business for Wests Group.
We are hearing Wests, who operate six licenced clubs in Newcastle and Nelson Bay as well Anchorage Port Stephens and Balance fitness centres, is about to announce a record annual turnover for the past financial year, the highest of any club group in Australia.
Knights officials are in deep negotiations with major sponsor nib with the health fund’s current three-year deal with the club up at the end of this season.
The naming rights sponsorship is worth around $1 million a season and given their current tenure coincided with three of the toughest years the club have endured, it’s hard to see them bailing out now with some much better times ahead.
Former Knights prop Tyrone Amey has signed with Maitland for this season but there is no certainty he will pull on a Pickers jersey.
We’re told Amey is heading north in the next week or two for a trial with Queensland Cup club Brisbane Easts.
Senior Knights including Mitchell Pearce, Aidan Guerra and Jamie Buhrer presented jerseys to the club’s Harold Matt’s Under 16’s and S G Ball Under 18’s players during the week.
They take on the Bulldogs in round 1 at Belmore today.
Worth every penny
How much is a private audience with one of rugby league’s greatest coaches, Craig Bellamy worth?
Seven of the eight Newcastle Rugby League district clubs forked out $400 each to send their coaches to a private dinner and chat with the Melbourne Storm mentor on Wednesday night.
Bellamy was in town at the invitation of the Charlestown Cricket Club for a packed lunch-time function at Charlestown Bowling Club on Thursday and in a great cross-promotion, they arranged for him to spend some time with the local league coaches the night before.
Kurri coach Ron Griffiths wasn’t there with the cash-strapped Bulldogs the only club not to take up the offer but the Maitland Pickers picked up the slack, sending both coach Luke Dorn and club president Frank Lawler along.
Bellamy spent around three hours with the group and the three coaches we spoke to about the night and the insight he provided all suggested it was worth every cent.
The Melbourne Storm coach was spotted on Thursday morning catching up with former Raiders and Knights prop Luke Davico and Souths Lions new coach Andrew Ryan over breakfast.
The long-term future of suspended Newcastle horse trainer Ben Smith is expected to become clearer after a Racing NSW stewards inquiry next Thursday and Friday.
Smith was suspended indefinitely last September after stewards raided the Group 1-winning trainer’s Broadmeadow stables in response to two of his horses allegedly testing positive to elevated levels of the banned substance cobalt.
Stable stars In Her Time and El Dorado Dreaming were immediately transferred to trainer Kris Lees.
Well known Newcastle solicitor Paul O’Sullivan will represent Smith at the hearing.
In a handy pick-up, Cessnock has signed Scottish international centre Lachlan Stein.
Stein, who represented Scotland and caught the eye in the 2017 World Cup, played NSW Cup for Newtown last season.