Two-horse race to be Newcastle's fullback
Newcastle Knights coach Nathan Brown has confirmed it'll be a two-horse race between Dylan Phythian and Peter Mata'utia to see who'll play fullback in 2017.
The Novocastrians will be without incumbent fullback Jake Mamo after the 24-year-old was released from the final year of his contract to join English Super League side Huddersfield Giants.
While the Knights received Joe Wardle in a player swap, the deal appeared to leave last year's wooden-spooners short of options at the back, but that's not the case according to their coach.
The custodian role was an issue at times for the Knights in 2016 with Jaelen Feeney, Jake Mamo and Dane Gagai tried at the back, but Brown is confident he has the players he needs to get the job done next season.
One of those men is 21-year-old Dylan Phythian who scored a try on debut in Round 25 against the Rabbitohs last season. His efforts saw him rewarded with another appearance the following week off the bench.
The Lakes United junior has the ability to play virtually anywhere in the spine, and wore the No.1 jersey on many occasions coming up through the grades.
"In the short term it'll come down to Dylan Phythian or Peter Mata'utia. Both are training very, very well," Brown told Knights TV.
"It's Dylan's first full pre-season but he's a really good competitor and his fitness levels are great.
"Before we took him on full-time, (assistant coaches) Craig Smith and Danny Buderus both said that his fitness levels and his ability to train hard are very strong in his mind. They've both been proven right.
"His effort and contribution from first year has been exceptional and he's a real natural for the game."
Brown's other option is to shift Peter Mata'utia to fullback where he has only played three times throughout his 52-game NRL career, and not since Round 2, 2015.
The 26-year-old made a triumphant return to the Knights after he re-joined them midway through 2016 following three seasons at the Dragons, playing all 12 of his matches at centre.
"Pete has got a fair bit more experience as far as not only playing, but he's also been in full-time systems for a long time now," Brown said.
"His fullback experience is a bit limited, but they're both training really well. In Pete's case, he can play wing or centre where he's spent most of his NRL career.
"They're both doing really good stuff and I know the team has confidence in them, which is important."
The Knights have signed promising Cowboys teenager Kalyn Ponga, who is expected to wear the Newcastle No.1 jersey when he joins the club in 2018.