The Newcastle Knights all-conquering Harold Matthews team has capped off a stellar year with five players selected in the NSW Under 16s side to take on Queensland at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night.
Matt Cooper, Brendan O’Hagan, Tom Starling, Brodie Jones and Kurtis Dark have all been rewarded for their outstanding form with the Club's 16s outfit.
Their selections come only a week after they helped the junior Knights claim the National Under 16s title with a hard fought 34-28 victory over the Northern Pride in Townsville last Saturday.
The Club's five NSW representatives will tackle the junior Maroons as a lead-up match to Wednesday's opening Origin in Brisbane.
Matts coach Tony Gleeson couldn't be prouder of his players gaining state call-ups, especially after such a successful year.
"It’s great to see those guys get the individual accolades," Gleeson beams.
"They probably couldn’t have done it without the rest of the team either, so it’s a big rap on the whole team that we’ve got five guys in that side."
It was certainly a team effort that got Newcastle across the line in the national final against the Northern Pride.
The Knights trailed 28-16 with just 20 minutes left, but surged home led by a double to fullback Matt Cooper to claim glory.
Gleeson credits a half-time speech imploring his side to dig deep for the remarkable victory.
"At half-time we spoke about the fact that the best teams that comeback are the ones that believe in themselves," he says.
"And secondly they go back and do what they’ve been doing all year and they do it well.
"That’s what they did.
"We’ve had a few milestones this year with the minor premiership, the premiership in NSW and then to go up there and win is a huge effort.
"I think we are the first away team to win the national championship, so I couldn’t be happier with the effort to go up there in short preparation.
"It just goes to show what a special bunch of young blokes and footballers they are.
"All that hard work they put in and the milestones were just a result of that.
"They were a team and they really played as a team and that all came out.
"If we weren’t a team that got on as well as we did, then we wouldn’t have won."
Gleeson has no doubts a number of players from this year's Harold Matthews team can go on and play at a higher level.
"There are certainly some guys there that if they keep working hard on their game they can make it," he says.
"The under 16s is long way from the 18s and NYC and then it’s a huge leap to the NRL.
"But a lot of the guys have got the natural talent to be and also the desire.
"On the back of that you need a bit of luck, but certainly the potential is there for a lot of these guys to go on and play grade."
The Under 16 Origin- Wednesday May 28
Venue: Suncorp Stadium
Voice for Mining Day is back!
See the Knights run out in the special edition hi-viz mining jersey and be part of one of the biggest crowds at Hunter Stadium this season when the Knights take on West Tigers at on June 8 for Voice for Mining Day! Get your ticket here.