Some quality appointments on and off the field have put the Newtown Jets’ year off to a flying start, but one major factor at Henson will remain the same – head coach Greg Matterson.
The Newtown mentor, who led the club to an historic drought-breaking premiership in 2012, has been a constant for the Bluebags since first coming on board in the former Jim Beam Cup in 2005. The upcoming season will be his 10th in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW, however, with his single-club tenure among the longest in senior Rugby League history.
Matterson proved his value for the club once again in 2016, with the Jets falling agonisingly short of a Grand Final berth. Even with the success of the Jets – and NRL affiliate the Sharks – last year, the 54-year-old has brought in extra support to lift the team another level this season. That helping hand comes in the form of former Dragons, Rabbitohs, Knights and Jets utility George Ndaira, who joins as an assistant coach.
“I coached George years ago, so I’ve known him for a long time,” Matterson tells NSWRL.com.au. “He came down with a job transfer and got in contact with me, we sat down, had a couple of talks and ended up settling on a deal.
“I’m really happy to have him – he brings a lot of experience and I don’t have to look over his shoulder, he knows what he’s doing.”
Ndaira’s most recent involvement in senior Rugby League came in 2015, when he was assistant coach of the darkhorse Knights’ side in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW. With the Matt Lantry-coached team suffering a number of key injuries, the Dragons junior came out of retirement to take part in a fairytale finish for Newcastle, who came from seventh place to win an unexpected Grand Final. With playing and coaching experience at a number of different levels, Matterson believes he will be a valuable addition to the Newtown coaching staff.
“What helps is that he’s been in the NRL, he’s been a bush football captain/coach and then been connected with Newcastle Knights' Intrust Super Premiership NSW (side), so he’s been at the highest level and at a working man’s level,” Matterson adds. “That’s the mix of the Intrust Super Premiership NSW – you’ve got to deal with full-time blokes and you’ve got to deal with blokes who go to work every day.
“He’ll be a good fit, having that experience of both those levels.”
The Jets have been active with their on-field recruitment as well in the off-season, luring former Sea Eagle Ben Fritz, former Eel Alec Bush and Samoan international Penani Manumalealii to Newtown, among others. Like most coaches, Matterson will field a new-look side in Round 1, but will also come up against an entirely new entity in the Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles – a challenge that he isn’t taking lightly.
“We’ve got to go out to their cow paddock and play them out there – they’re a bit behind in facilities,” Matterson says bluntly. “We’ve got to take a good mindset out there, obviously they’re going to look to impress in Round 1.
“They’re a new joint venture, so they’ll be coming out all guns blazing and we’re going to be in for a tough time out there.”
With regular season positions on the line, the new crop of talent will need to be on their game in the club's final pre-season fixture: against the North Sydney Bears at Henson Park, 4pm this Saturday.