Newton endorses Knights' new 'Joey'
After an eye-catching display against the Broncos last Friday night, 'Joey' was once again the name on the lips of Knights fans and few are better positioned to assess the potential of Joseph Tapine than veteran forward Clint Newton.
When Beau Scott left the field after just 14 minutes Tapine was thrust into the furnace with his team already trailing and played the remaining 66 minutes of the game, laying on his team's first try for Dane Gagai and producing three classy offloads and two line-break assists to go with 30 tackles and 89 running metres.
It's the type of response you hope from a 21-year-old coming into a team with just one win from their past 10 games and another significant step forward in his development according to Newton.
As captain of the Knights' NSW Cup team Newton has been tasked with the responsibility of educating a promising crop of youngsters in the ways of first grade and was delighted to see the way the likes of Tapine, Jake Mamo and Paterika Vaivai stepped up against Brisbane.
"Joey Tapine, I thought he did some really good things and that's sometimes when you least expect it, when you get thrown in the deep end," Newton told NRL.com.
"I remember when we had a similar game in 2004 when Kurt [Gidley] kicked the field goal (the Knights defeated Brisbane 17-16 in Round 10).
"We lost Ben Kennedy in the first five minutes and Mark Hughes in the first 10 minutes and all of a sudden Todd Lowrie is playing in the centres against Brent Tate.
"Sometimes it's just that 'sink or swim' and I thought Joey did some really good things.
"He's got to now go away and look at his game and work out how he can get better."
Amidst a horror injury toll the Knights sent out a team against the table-topping Broncos with seven players aged 23 years or younger; the starting front row were aged 23, 23 and 22 alone.
They represent the first phase of a wealth of talent coming through Newcastle's junior ranks but after 15 years of first grade football, Newton's challenge to the next generation is to not let the team's current struggles get them down.
"In a perfect world you'd want to blood blokes in to a successful team. You drip-feed them in, similar to what Michael Hagan did with a lot of us," said Newton, who debuted for the Knights back in 2001.
"That's nearly the bottom of the barrel so you can only go up from there but you're only going to get out of this stuff if you fight like hell and that's what they've got to learn.
"I thought guys like Pat Vaivai, Joey and Sam [Mataora] really stepped up [against the Broncos]. That's their benchmark now and that's what they have to understand, that a good consistent first-grader doesn't drop too far below that."
Playing in just his second NRL game of the season, Jake Mamo mixed two errors and some uncertainty under the high ball with four tackle busts and 206 running metres and is another who has honed his game in the NSW Cup under Newton.
"Jake Mamo is such a competitor at training. Sometimes he has got too much enthusiasm but you never want to stop someone from playing instinctive footy," said Newton.
"When you're playing in those positions where you've got to touch the ball a lot it's about backing yourself and making the percentage plays.
"Joey, Pat and Sam are not the finished product yet but with the right work ethic and the ability to keep continuing to do it and not being happy with satisfactory at training and away from training, they'll have long careers."