Mata’utia’s push for Round 1 starting spot

nib Newcastle Knights' Sione Mata’utia maintains the competition for spots has lifted as March 9 draws closer.

The 21-year-old admits every player is itching for their chance to shine in the upcoming trial matches following a long and hard pre-season.

“It’s been pretty tough and gruelling, but the boys have been doing well and we’re tracking pretty well,” said Mata’utia.

“Fitness wise we’re in front of where we’d thought we’d be 13 weeks ago, so that’s a positive, although as we get fitter, training gets harder, so you can never gauge how fit you’re getting.

“The combinations are starting to come together with Pearcey (Mitchell Pearce), Lamby (Brock Lamb), Coggs (Jack Cogger) and Connor (Watson).

“The big question is who’s going to be playing where and some positions have definitely got a question mark over them.”

Mata’utia, whose 2017 season saw him selected for the NSW Emerging Origin squad, has been excited about a positional change this year.

“I’ve been training a fair bit in the centres at the moment, partnering with Tautau (Moga) and it’s been awesome,” Mata’utia explained.

“Myself and SKD (Shaun Kenny-Dowall) on the right side have been training really well, and Kenny (Ken Sio) also.

“It’s good to be back in the backs and working on a few different combinations and skills… it’s been fun and I’m feeling pretty good and eager to see what the team is going to look like coming into the first trial.”

While the competition is fierce amongst teammates, Mata’utia has no doubts where he wants to be Round 1.

“The plan is to be in that starting spot come Round 1, just going to grab it with both hands,” smiled Mata’utia.

“Rossdog (Nathan Ross), Kenny, SKD and all the players in the backs can play a variety of positions which makes it a bit harder, because if they can’t make the wing, they can also make the centre or fullback so there’s definitely a lot of competition.

“It’s healthy for the team and it has made everyone go up a level, myself included.”

And the young forward, who played a prominent part in last year’s leadership group as co-captain, is looking forward to a stronger, more experienced leadership squad in 2018.

“Players that have played on the big stage, in grand finals and Origins, know what they’re talking about,” said Mata’utia.

“That’s the biggest change we’ve had at this Club, having leaders that can play some good footy consistently and lead from the front.

“It’s something the Club hasn’t had for a while which is only going to be good for the team.”