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THE savagely modern haircut stands out, but otherwise Peter Mata’utia fits right in as he trains with the big boys during this early morning session on the back field of the local university. He doesn’t miss a beat in the backline drills, and relishes those moments of frivolity that punctuate the two-hour slog.

His coaches say he’s an extrovert; but the 90-kilogram teenager meets is shy and modest.

The Knights have high hopes for the 18-year-old former Australian Schoolboys representative, who may well get a run at fullback – or perhaps in the centres or on the wing – in the NRL before the ’09 season fades to black. His coaches describe a player with fine skills and the knack of cropping up in the right place, despite not being a speedster.

He’s also a handy goal-kicker. He’s caught the eye of just about everyone, including the man blocking his path to the No. 1 jersey, Kurt Gidley, who’s become something of a mentor to the Sydney-born lad of Samoan parents.

Do you feel ready for the NRL?

I think so, but I do have a lot more to learn. Brian Smith keeps telling me that it’s alright to make mistakes. That’s what training’s for. And the more mistakes you make, the more you learn. At the moment, if I keep going the way I am and training hard, I do believe I’ll be ready if the chance comes.

How did you come to be here at the Knights?

Both my parents are Samoan, and they moved over to New Zealand when they were about 30. After they had my two older sisters, they went to Sydney. That’s where I was born. I played for two junior clubs in Sydney – Mt Pritchard and Bankstown Cougars. I’ve been in Newcastle since I was 13.

Is football your life? And what are your goals?

I wouldn’t say it’s my life. But it is part of my life. I love playing it. It just keeps me occupied and out of trouble, as well. My goals are just like everyone else’s – to make first grade. But if not, just retire happily from footy and then have a good job and a good life.

What do you think your main attributes are as a player?

I’d like to say stuff but it would sound like I’m a bit up myself. I’ll have to ask the coach that question and then just keep doing what they think I’m good at. I think I know what I need to work on. I probably need to be more confident. Like, coming up from the -20s and now I’m with the big boys. You’re not a fan any more. You’re part of the team so you’ve got to be one of them. You’ve got to talk like them. You’ve got to be aggressive. Especially at fullback where I play, you have to be aggressive to tell players where to go. So mainly just being confident. The rest will come.

What else is important to you?

Family is very important to me. There are seven kids. I’m the third eldest. My younger brothers are what keep me coming to footy training every day. I look at them and they’ve got the potential to make it as well. So I know that if I keep doing good, then they’ll just keep looking up to me and probably want to follow me. One’s 17 this year, and one’s 16 this year and the youngest one’s 14 this year. They’re the main influence on me, my little brothers, and hopefully I’ll do well so they’ll do the same.

When are you happiest?

Being with my girlfriend Casey. Her brother was actually one of my good mates when we were playing in the Knights’ under-15s. I met Casey and we went to the beach one day and just went from there. And playing PlayStation with my little brothers – they’re just funny. And also going to church. Yeah, our religion is big. Our mum’s always telling us to go to church, and if we can’t make it on Sunday to make sure we go on Saturday. And it’s just made me become who I am today.

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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