Competition for places in the outside backs in the Knights' NRL side will ensure the Newcastle VB NSW Cup squad is blessed for class as they look to go one better this season.
The Knights fell at the final hurdle, beaten by the Panthers 48-12 in the 2014 VB NSW Cup grand final. Rick Stone is now back in charge of the Knights' NRL side following the departure of Wayne Bennett to the Broncos, with rising young coach Matt Lantry taking the reins of the VB NSW Cup side. He can’t wait for the games to begin.
“It was a tough year we went through [in NRL] last year and that has probably put us in good stead,” said Lantry.
“We have a lot of young blokes who were given a taste of first grade and that experience will serve them well this season.”
Skipper Matt Hilder and veteran centre Timana Tahu have retired while halfback Michael Dobson has returned to Super League with Salford - but plenty of young faces will return to the Knights' VB NSW Cup side with experience beyond their years.
Exciting young winger Jake Mamo was one such player to get his chance in the NRL through injury, playing seven top-grade games in a season that also saw him named New South Wales Under-20s Player of the Year after scoring three tries in the 30-8 win against Queensland Under-20s.
Sione Mata’utia rose through the ranks to make the Kangaroos squad for the Four Nations where he became Australia’s youngest ever Test player when he ran out against England aged 18 years and 129 days beating Israel Folau’s 2008 record by 65 days.
“What we have lost in experience we sure gain in enthusiasm,” said Lantry.
“Sione Mata’utia could be an international playing reserve grade, such is the depth at our clubs in outside back positions.”
Utility back Carlos Tuimavave has moved from the Warriors in a bid to break into first grade on a regular basis but is expected to start off in the VB NSW Cup along with the likes of Queensland Under-20s halfback Jaelen Feeney.
Also stepping up are former Warriors Under-20s premiership front-rower James Taylor, forward Pride Petterson-Robati, back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Junior Kiwi Danny Levi even though he’s still eligible for Under-20s.
GAINS: Carlos Tuimavave (Warriors), Marvin Filipo (France), Jaelen Feeney, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Danny Levi, Pride Petterson-Robati, James Taylor (all Knights Under 20s).
LOSSES: Josh Mantellato (Hiull KR), Brayden Williame (Manly), Michael Dobson (Salford), Timana Tahu, Matt Hilder (both retired), Brenton Horwood (Qld Cup), Toka Likilik (released), Matt Minto (Qld Cup), Travis Waddell (Broncos).