Feeney vows to repay Knights' faith
They are the chosen ones entrusted with the future fortunes of the Newcastle Knights and fullback Jaelen Feeney says they owe it to coach Nathan Brown to quickly adapt to the demands of the Telstra Premiership.
Feeney was one of five players to make their NRL debuts in Newcastle's 30-12 loss to the Titans on Sunday night and while there were glimpses of their potential, they also made errors that the team paid dearly for.
Although committed to his youth policy, in his post-match press conference Knights coach Nathan Brown said no player had been given a guarantee about their place in the team and hinted at further debutants in coming weeks.
Torrential rain and torturous torpedo bombs from Ashley Taylor and Tyrone Roberts put Feeney under plenty of pressure in his debut at fullback but the 21-year-old said he and the other young players in the squad need to come up to speed quickly.
Speaking to NRL.com after making his debut on the Gold Coast in front of a large number of family and friends, Feeney said Brown's faith in his future was a big reason why he re-signed with the club for a further two years last September.
"There was a bit of interest going around [from other NRL clubs] but what I wanted was nothing to do with money, it was just which coach was going to back me," Feeney said.
"'Browny' came to me and said he was going to show faith in me and he's going to back me and that's all I've ever wanted from a coach, for someone to back me and then let my ability do the talking.
"He's backed all the young boys through the pre-season and he backs our ability.
"You can't ask more from a coach who is willing to back his younger players and players that he thinks deserve to play.
"All the faith that he has put in us, we've got to go out there and do a job and get better week to week.
"As long as we compete hard and get better week to week then he's probably a happy coach, we're happy players and we're going to get better."
A Nerang Roosters junior, the opportunity to make his NRL debut down the road from where he grew up went some way to making up for the disappointment of being on standby as 18th man three times last season.
He may not quite have got the 100 free tickets he asked for but there was still a strong contingent of Feeney supporters on hand to see his top grade debut and share in a moment he said required plenty of sacrifices along the way.
"I left [the Gold Coast] when I was 16 to go to the Bulldogs and it was at that stage where everyone was coming into Year 12 and were graduating," Feeney said.
"It's the best years of your life so I was getting photos and messages from my mates back home that they were graduating and having heaps of fun and I was starting a new chapter in my life and meeting new friends.
"That was a massive sacrifice for me. I missed a lot of 18ths, I missed a lot of 21sts and that's all behind me now and I'm glad I made the sacrifices to be where I am today.
"It's been a long road and I just stuck at it and stuck at it and made some really big sacrifices in my life to even have the opportunity to debut so now it's under my belt it's a big weight off my shoulders."
After his first game in charge Brown apportioned blame for his side's errors equally between the young and older players but said that those with youth on their side such as Feeney would be afforded greater latitude.
"It was a tough day at the office for any fullback with the conditions," Brown said. "Jaelen had some really good parts to his game and he had some parts to his game that he'll see he can do a fair bit better.
"We've got a number of kids that we've got a lot of confidence in and we've got a few more that haven't played today but what we can't do is reward older players for doing things they've done wrong for a long period of time.
"The key is that these young guys understand what it takes to win a game of footy. If they can keep putting the effort in and competing hard and they can improve along the way and understand the process of how you win, that will be important."