The competition for spots at the Newcastle Knights this year has sent young forward Sam Stone on a journey of personal improvement.
The trial against Parramatta in a fortnight will give him the chance to deliver on coach Nathan Brown's off-season instructive to become a bigger stronger player.
The Valentine junior acknowledged plenty of hard choices coming up for the Knights coaching staff this year.
“As everyone knows we’ve recruited strongly in the off-season and the team has become a lot stronger and there’s plenty more depth there,” Stone said.
“My goal this year is to play as much NRL as possible.
“So, it’s going to be a hard team to crack but I think that would be a solid goal for me.”
Stone was the youngest rookie at the Knights in 2017 and was given an important message from Brown that he would need to put on weight and gain strength - something that has taken up most of his time and attention in the off-season.
“I finished last season at 97kg and now I am at 102kg, so I feel stronger and that’s what it was about for me,” Stone said.
“I’ve just got to train very hard that’s the first thing.
“Secondly, I have to maintain playing good footy.
“But you know what, if I happen to start in reserve grade or wherever I end up playing, I’ll be happy.
“I’ve got to play good footy and train very hard and hopefully it’ll get me there.
One of the big names that will be in the red and blue this year is State of Origin participant Aidan Guerra and as well as being a competitor for the backrow, he has also been a valuable mentor.
“At training, I ask Aidan for little tips here and there on some tricks of the trade,” Stone said.
“He has been very good because he’s a very experienced player, so he has definitely helped me out quite a bit.”
The son of former Knights coach Rick who is head coach at Super League club Huddersfield and has been in the Newcastle junior system since he was 15 years.
“My old man had a huge influence on me even going way back to when I first started playing football as it sparked my love for the game,” Stone said.
“But since coming across to the Knights Nathan Brown has been very good to me.”
Brown has high hopes for Stone who has signed a contract extension until 2020.
Newcastle clash against Manly in round one of the Telstra Premiership under lights at McDonald Jones Stadium on March 9.