Mataora propping up the Knights
If success is measured on improvement then Newcastle prop Sam Mataora has done his fledgling club the world of good this season.
Days after playing his 50th NRL game in the Knights' heartbreaking 20-18 loss to Parramatta, Mataora believes he has hit career-best form yet was adamant there's still plenty of improvement in him.
The 2016 season has been a turning point in the 25-year-old's life and Nathan Brown's arrival as coach of the Knights has played a pivotal part in him finally making a fist of his young career.
Earlier in the pre-season Brown threatened Mataora's position at the Knights would be on the chopping block if he wasn't able to commit to fitness standards.
The rest is history for the Cook Islands international who has started in the front row in all of his nine games this year after losing eight kilograms over the summer months.
"Nathan Brown came in over the pre-season and really put everyone in the firing line," Mataora told NRL.com.
"He was very honest and straight up with everyone. If you weren't going to do what he wanted then he'd let you go, which I liked about him.
"For me, I had to drop a bit of weight and get fit. They were some of the realities he had me face and thankfully everything fell into place. It's helped me move around the park easier and I guess I'm in career-best form though I'm just focused on keeping it up."
Mataora has averaged 48.7 minutes on the paddock per game in 2016 – an important factor considering the inexperienced forwards he has around him at Newcastle, including the Saifiti twins, Josh King, Lachlan Fitzgibbon and David Bhana.
"I'm always mindful of helping the younger kids for sure," Mataora said.
"We're still a pretty young side so hopefully in a couple of years we can be one of the top teams in the NRL.
"When I was coming through the grades I had Alan Tongue and Joshy Miller down in Canberra helping me out. So at the right time sometimes I will give them some advice but otherwise I let my football do the talking."
Against Parramatta on Monday night Mataora partnered King in the front row. An apprentice electrician, King had worked six hours earlier that day in a Singleton mine before backing it up with 46 minutes of NRL action.
The Knights duo are expected to come up against State of Origin stars James Tamou and Matt Scott this weekend, another box for Mataora to tick in the season that's been for him so far.
"It's been crazy for [King] to come in and do everything right by the team. He works and then comes to training which it's crazy. He's going old school about it but he's one of our young kids playing well," Mataora said.
"We're looking forward to the challenge against the Cowboys. [Scott and Tamou] are two of the best props going around and we'll all be out to improve against them."