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They’re two teams separated by 14 years, but the 2000 and 2014 Newcastle Knights Harold Matthews sides share a number of similarities.    

The Knights last won an Under-16s title back in 2000, charging to a hard fought 32-26 victory over Penrith led by current NRL stars Mick Ennis, Greg Bird and Brad Tighe.

Flash forward two decades and a star-studded Newcastle side are again in a Matt's decider, fittingly also against the Panthers. 

It's an ironic situation that evokes special memories for Club Community Development Manager Laurie Clifton, who coached the 2000 side to glory two decades ago.

Clifton has also worked with a large number of this year's 16s team in the Under-15s ranks last year, so Saturday's grand final against Penrith will take on extra meaning for him as well.         

"I always knew this 2014 team were going to be a talented squad and they proved me right with what they’ve done," Clifton says.

"So I’m excited and honestly think that they’ll be a good chance of winning it.

"I see this years side has being very similar and there will be a lot of players progress and play NRL."

Clifton couldn't be happier to see the Knights back in another Harold Matthews decider, admitting their success reminds him of the old days when the likes of Bird and Ennis ruled. 

"They were a pretty tight knit mob and they were just great to coach," he recalls of his 2000 team.

"Six of them went on to play NRL, which is rare these days. 

"We also had blokes like Jermaine Ale, Riley Brown, Mitch Young and even our current development manager Matt Lantry.   

"They were intense and put in 100 per cent every time they went out on the paddock."

Asked if he had any advice for the 2014 team, Clifton kept it brief and simple.  

"Just try and make everything as normal and whatever you did all season, don’t change it," he says.

"It’s exciting, but you’ve got to control your emotions and be composed.

"We never beat Penrith during the regular season in 2000, only in the grand final, so it can be done."

Current Harold Matthews coach Tony Gleeson says his side are excited, yet fully focused for Saturday's all-important grand final. 

"We've had two good sessions so far this week," Gleeson says. 

"Our attack was a bit down last week, so we did some video on that and then on Wednesday we focused on our defence. 

"But all the boys are very excited and ready to go."

Newcastle comprehensively defeated Penrith 40-0 the last time they met in Round 8, but Gleeson insists that result will count for little come Saturday. 

"We spoke about that victory and said what happens in the rounds is just a means for us getting to the finals with a chance to win," he says.

"So we've put no weight into the fact we've beaten Penrith by 40, because grand finals are different in that sides come out with desperation and nothing to lose.

"We just need to focus on our own game.

"But it's great for the Knights and the area. The Club's junior development program is obviously going well with the young talent that they've nurtured throughout the program. 

"So hopefully we can get the win for the Club and ourselves on Saturday." 

Newcastle will take on Penrith in the Harold Matthews grand final at Leichhardt Oval from 12 noon on Saturday.


1. Matt Cooper, 2. Brayden Musgrove, 3. Heath Gibbs, 4. Nicolas O’Meley, 5. Samuel McIntyre, 6. Nash Birch, 7. Brendan O’Hagan, 8. Pasami Saulo, 9. Tom Starling, 10. Brodie Jones (c), 11. Joel Taylor, 12. Jayden Hocking, 13. Kurtis Dark. Interchange: 14. Kurtis Dark, 15. Matthew Atchison, 16. Hudson Young, 18. Jack Weir, 19. Luke Casson, 20. Kynan Blasczak, 22.Luke Huth, 24. Luke Huth.
COACH: Anthony Gleeson