Senior players' faith in Mata'utia
Senior Kangaroos players have backed Sione Mata'utia to enjoy a long stint in the green and gold of Australia after the 18-year-old was named to make his Test debut in the do-or-die Four Nations clash with England in Melbourne on Sunday.
Mata'utia's elevation onto Australia's left wing comes at the expense of Roosters winger Daniel Tupou while Boyd Cordner was named on the bench ahead of Josh Papalii, the only two changes to the team that was defeated 30-12 by New Zealand last Saturday.
With Daly Cherry-Evans under an injury cloud Broncos half Ben Hunt has been named as 18th man with Bulldogs giant David Klemmer and Papalii also included in the 20-man squad.
When he runs out onto AAMI Park on Sunday Mata'utia will be 18 years and 130 days, beating Israel Folau's record as the youngest Kangaroo on record by 64 days and with the full support of key senior members of the squad.
Greg Bird captained the Prime Minister's XIII to Papua New Guinea earlier this month and although the skipper was named the players' player, Bird's vote went to Mata'utia who he said showed up more senior players with his performance.
"I thought he was the best on the field over there," Bird said. "He carried the ball back strongly; I hadn't really seen a great deal of him before that game and he really outshone a lot of the more experienced outside backs in that team. I'm sure this will be the first of many Australian rep games that he plays.
"He is quite a quiet kid. We spent a bit of time together, we went out fishing and snorkelling on the boat with a few of the young blokes and he's a nice, quiet Newcastle boy.
"He grew up probably 20 minutes from where I grew up in the Hunter Valley and I've got nothing but good things to say about him."
Newcastle teammate Beau Scott roomed with Mata'utia in Papua New Guinea and told NRL.com that his approach to his football far exceeds that of other players his age.
"He probably showed how mature he is as an 18-year-old over in Papua New Guinea," said Scott, who has been named to play his third Test on Sunday and his first against England.
"He impressed a lot of people over there and obviously being around Sione for the last 12 months or so I knew what sort of kid he was and what his abilities were and that just opened a few people's eyes up. That's why he's here today and got the opportunity to pull on the Australian jumper.
"He's a very mature 18-year-old and the way he goes about his football, not just on the field but off the field, he's streets in front of the kids he's playing with at the moment in the 20s. It's probably why he's going to turn into such a great player. Just his maturity at such a young age is really impressive."
It's an astonishing rise for a young man who has played just seven games in the top grade but who showed in a short space of time why people such as Wayne Bennett and Kurt Gidley hold him in such high regard.
He played three games at fullback for the Knights in 2014 and four on the wing, scoring seven tries and contributing to five wins from seven games but upon joining the Kangaroos squad in Brisbane said he was struggling to comprehend his achievement.
"I'm pinching myself and trying to wake up from this but it's awesome," Mata'utia said. "I never thought it would come this early but truly honoured and humbled to do it really because not many kids get the opportunity to do this at this age so I'm honoured and humbled.
"It's a bit confronting [being around the senior players], you don't know how to approach them but I guess they come to you sometimes and you just have to ask questions and not be boring but I think it just comes as time goes on.
"You need to get to know these players, you might be pulling on the Kangaroos jersey and playing alongside them so you need to get to know them a bit and I think everyone's obliged to get to know each other."
The youngest of four brothers contracted to the Dragons and Knights, Mata'utia said it was the NRL debut of eldest brother Peter that gave him the belief he too could reach the greatest heights the game has to offer, perhaps just not quite so soon.
"Growing up I wasn't too good. I learned off my brothers and we all got good with each other," Mata'utia said.
"[Peter's debut in 2011] gave us the belief that we could make it too. As soon as my brother made his debut it made me think about my journey and what I wanted to do and that gave me the drive and motivation to make it to the top."