The VB NSW Cup will farewell one of its favourite sons this weekend, with Newcastle Knights winger Josh Mantellato aiming for a fairytale finish before joining English Super League club Hull KR.
In just three seasons with the Knights, Mantellato has made his NRL debut, represented Italy at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, finished the regular season as the VB NSW Cup’s leading point scorer for three consecutive years and established himself as one of the most consistent outside backs in the competition.
Despite his achievements, Mantellato is yet to play in a Grand Final with the Knights and with premiership glory only 80 minutes away; Mantellato is looking forward to the challenge this Sunday.
“It’s something that we set out to do at the start of the year and to have the opportunity to finish with a Grand Final win… well it couldn’t get any better,” said Mantellato.
“You rarely get the chance to play in a Senior Grade Grand Final and a few of the boys here have never played in a Grand Final in any grade, so it’s an awesome opportunity for all of us.”
After heartbreaking Preliminary Final losses to Balmain-Ryde Eastwood and Windsor in the past two seasons, Mantellato is hopeful that it’s a case of third time lucky for the hard luck Knights.
“The last couple of years we’ve been pretty close which has been hard, but hopefully we’ve learnt from that and we’ll be ready to go this weekend.”
Despite his lofty individual achievements over the past three seasons, Mantellato is adamant that when the time comes to reflect on his VB NSW Cup career; a Premiership win with his teammates would be his proudest achievement
“You always set personal goals at the start of the year to keep you motivated throughout the season and it’s great to achieve them, but it’s a team game and my focus is always on helping my team towards winning a Grand Final.
“Hopefully a good result on the weekend would take preference (over personal achievements), but previously just having the opportunity to play with my teammates will be the thing I remember best.
“There are a few boys here who have been at the club for a long time and playing outside club legends like Timana Tahu… I just pinch myself sometimes.
“The mates I’ve made, people I’ve met and the opportunities the club has given me are things I’ll never forget.”
As someone who has taken the hard road to making his NRL debut, Mantellato is convinced that competitions like the VB NSW Cup are the best learning ground for young Rugby League players looking to make the most from their careers.
“Nowadays, kids who finish their career in the Under 20s expect to go straight into first grade. They need to make the step up into a tough second-tier competition with men who are experienced so they can develop their game.
“Clubs like Penrith have been doing things the right way in a sense that if you’re good enough you’ll play reserve grade; regardless of your age, and I think that’s why they’ve been so successful this season.
“It’s vital to your development to have that experience that the VB NSW Cup provides.”
Having made his debut against South Sydney in Round 12, 2013 (where he scored a try and kicked three goals), Mantellato’s advice for those still chasing their NRL dream is simple – “Keep doing it. If that’s your main focus and main goal, as long as you’re making the sacrifices along the way that you need to, you’ll get there.”
As someone who has made the necessary sacrifices to get where he is today, Mantellato will take the same grateful attitude he has displayed throughout his time in the VB NSW Cup into his new career in the English Super League next season.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity.
“I’ve been to England a few times and really enjoyed it, so to have the opportunity to play with such a proud club like Hull KR is an awesome opportunity.
“I’ve spoken to a few of the boys who have played against them before and they said their supporters are some of the loudest you’ll ever hear.”
With only 80 minutes remaining in Josh Mantellato’s career in the famous red and blue of the Newcastle Knights, the lanky wingers mind is focused only on the big game ahead.
“We’re at full strength with a few of the Knights NRL boys coming back into the team so we’re feeling good.
“Penrith are a great team with an amazing backline and tough forwards, so we’re going to have to improve a lot on our win over the Cutters if we’re to be successful this weekend.
“I’m just looking forward to getting out there and getting amongst it.”
Catch Josh and his Knights teammates in action this Sunday at Allianz Stadium when they take on the Penrith Panthers.
This feature can also be found in this weekend's Grand Final edition of Rugby League News which will be available for just $5 at Allianz Stadium.
Tickets on Sunday are just $10 Adult - $5 Conc/Child or $30 for a Family pass