Much has been written about Sione Mata'utia of late.
The young Newcastle forward recently passed the 100-game milestone and not long after that he turned 23. In a tough sport, it's a lot of matches to have played by that age.
He's had highs – representing Australia after just seven NRL games – and lows in three-straight wooden spoons with the Knights. He describes his path as a bit of a "Benjamin Button" scenario, where he started at a point that some work their whole career to reach, then progressed through the past five years to be now mostly playing off the bench.
As big-name players take up more of the Knights' roster, Mata'utia is fighting for his position for the first time. No more prioritising socialising over off-field one percenters, Mata'utia eliminated any complacency that had developed over several years of being one of the best players in an underperforming team and made sure his consistency followed him from training into everyday life.
"Previous years, I was just a bit complacent with where I was and more of the mindset that I would always be playing the next week," he says.
"It was just the team and where the club was at – in my head I wasn't being as professional as I should have been.
"I'm lucky that I've learnt now and got put through my paces with the players that we have. I had to knuckle down and I've learnt that no matter where the club is at, or whether you have a position that is guaranteed, you should always put in 100 per cent."
Coach Nathan Brown credits those off-field improvements, as well as being settled with his partner, Hannah, and their 18-month-old daughter Amiyah, for Mata'utia's continued development.
He's had to work on it and it hasn't been easy. From having everything at the beginning, his learning curve has been vastly different to nearly every player in the NRL.
"A big thing for Sione was he got a lot very quickly," Brown says.
"I'm not saying [he did] without earning it. Generally the best path to Australia, in my opinion, is to become a really good, consistent first-grader, become an Origin player, then a Test player. I don't think it did Sione any favours playing for Australia at his age. Financially it did, but I don't believe it helped him one bit at all.
"I didn't know Sione then, I only got to know him when I got here. Sione has a lot of consistency about the way he plays now and that's come with having a little one. He's settled down off the field. His lifestyle is very good – and he has some good senior players to look to now as well."
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