Mata'utia's shock forward switch inevitable: Brown
Sione Mata'utia's shock shift to the second row came as a surprise to most prior to Newcastle's 29-25 golden point defeat to the Raiders on Sunday afternoon, yet Knights coach Nathan Brown believes a move to the forwards was always to be expected.
With Jacob Saifiti featuring for the Knights' Holden Cup outfit, the youngest of the Mata'utia clan shifted to the back row and made a good fist of it up against Queensland Origin representative Josh Papalii.
Mata'utia managed 142 metres and 29 tackles (for only three misses against the might of Papalii) in the forwards, but found himself back in the centres for the final 15 minutes with his coach looking to acclimatise the 20-year-old to a heavier workload.
Brown admittedly suggested Mata'utia's move to the pack was accelerated but used two of his own coaching success stories to help convince the Australian Test winger to make the move.
"We had a chat and spoke to him about the number of players in the past who have moved in there. I've coached Benny Creagh and Beau Scott in similar instances. The reality is: centres have the least impact on a game nowadays," Brown said post-game.
"Back-rowers have far, far bigger impact and Sione is one of our most talented players. He's one of our best talkers and even though he's only 20 he's probably one of our best leaders.
"Sione was very good for his first game. It's been a decision we have thought about for a while, moving Sione to the forwards. But he had some defensive things he needed to work on first before we could move him in there.
"He'll have a much bigger impact at our club playing there now. He's very keen to get involved which is a good thing for us. He was only ever going to move there anyway, it's just we've probably fast-tracked it is all."
The Knights fell to their tenth-straight loss in the nation's capital but showed enough fight to suggest there are some positive days to come yet this season.
A whopping eight players of the Knights' 17 against the Raiders were 22 or younger, and while the pain of losing cuts deep, according to Brown the inexperienced octet are finding solace in the knowledge that they're building towards handy NRL careers
"It's been a tough year but because there are so many younger guys, they're actually enjoying the privilege of playing first grade," Brown said.
"Then for guys like Jeremy Smith, it's his last season so plenty of them have a reason to want to enjoy it.
"Whereas if you were down the bottom with a seasoned team then it'd be a lot harder to get the guys up. But these kids want to become first grade players and that's the challenge for them."
Co-captain Smith himself said the Knights sacrificing a 22-0 lead to eventually lose through a Jordan Rapana try one second before half-time in golden point extra time will prove a steep learning curve ahead of the club's second bye of the season.
"We started the way we wanted to start but in the second half we couldn't wrestle the momentum back. The effort from our younger boys was pleasing though," Smith said.
"We kept turning up and were put under the pump a fair few times but we were rolling our sleeves up and getting out of trouble. But credit to Canberra, they really made us pay when they were down our end."