Newcastle Knights coach Wayne Bennett has labelled three try hero Sione Mata'utia as a future captain of the club after his outstanding man of the match performance against the Warriors at Hunter Stadium.
With the 18-year-old crossing for his first three NRL tries on Sunday afternoon, Bennett was highly impressed with the South Newcastle junior, making note that the young winger has lived up to the coach's own expectations with his show-stealing performance against the finals-bound Warriors.
"He has great attributes. The greatest thing about him is I can imagine one day he will captain the Knights and be a great player throughout his career. He has played fullback for us, his preferred position is centre but he played well for us on the wing today," Bennett told reporters after the Knights' 28-22 win.
"I don't think anyone at the club would doubt that [Sione is captain material]. It is a long way away for him but I'm sure one day... that’s the way he is heading."
Teammate and Newcastle captain Kurt Gidley agreed with his coach's comments, claiming that Mata'utia's toughness is one attribute that stands out most.
"For a young guy, I've seen him play in those junior Origin games and our Under 20's team and he was only 17 at the start of the year. He is prepared to put his body on the line and he doesn't have a big head or an ego," Gidley said.
"He trains hard and talks well and he has all those attributes to be a leader especially around his peers around his age so it is a pleasure playing with the younger guys coming through."
With the Knights going on a giant-killing spree after accounting for the Roosters, Warriors and Melbourne in recent weeks, Newcastle have won six of their past eight games and continue to work their way past the bottom three teams in the competition.
"It's a great feeling winning games," Gidley said. "We have had some tight games there and two where we have come from behind and even today it didn't feel like we were in the lead.
"You're aware that it is close but our effort and character to hold on was the proudest thing as a teammate and as a club."
While New Zealand mounted a spirited comeback to level the score at 14-all soon after halftime with Newcastle up 14-0 after 26 minutes, Gidley believes that their positive backend to their season comes down to better execution.
"When you're down on confidence you're not throwing the balls as crisp and talking as much," Gidley said. "But when you start winning games you're talking more and playing better and your effort is there so all these little things stack up to a good performance."
With the Broncos, Eels and Dragons to round out their season, Newcastle are better placed than most teams to go out on a high especially with their last two fixtures to be played at Hunter Stadium.
With Bennett set to face the club he will coach from 2015 onwards next weekend, the mastercoach offered no comment over the irony of perhaps ending his future team's 2014 finals chances.