The Newcastle Knights were on the look out for the next up-and-coming stars at the Club’s junior trials held over the weekend.
More than 250 young rugby league players between the age of 16 and 20-years-old showed off their wares for the opportunity to be selected to join the Club’s junior development system.
The young players were invited to trial after they were identified at games played with their school or local football Club.
The Knights development staff is consistently watching and monitoring players within the region on the search for the most gifted to join the Club’s development system.
“It was a big day of trials, big day of footy and there’s plenty of quality players out there,” Matt Lantry, the Knights’ manager of participation, development and infrastructure said.
“We watch footy after footy game, then from there, they’ll compile a shortlist of kids to trial, which is narrowed down to 35-40 kids to take part in the Summer squad that kicks off in November."
The players all have their sights set on following in the steps of NRL Knights like Jarrod Mullen, Tyrone Roberts and Adam Clydsdale who embarked on their career with the Club’s junior squads to progress through the SG Ball, Harold Matthew and reserve grade teams.
“There’s really good quality out there and again our Harold Matthews will be strong, our SG Ball was good, and there's lots of really good individual performances,” Lantry said.
“That’s what we want to get back to, giving our local guys an opportunity regardless of their age.
“We are hell-bent on ensuring our under 16s are made up of a majority of local juniors.”
The Knights feeder area stretches as far as Port Macquarie on the North Coast and includes Newcastle, the upper Hunter and the Central Coast
Some under 20s players also travelled from Queensland for the opportunity to trial.
“There are also some new guys coming into our 20s squad that are locally based in the Newcastle competition,” he said.
Although many of the young players who trialled may not have been selected in the shortlists, its not necessarily the end of the journey.
“Just because you miss out in the 16s doesn’t mean you’re going to miss out in the following year,” Lantry assured.
He explained that Knights' captain Kurt Gidley is an example of a player who didn’t always make the starting squads in the younger grades, but through sheer hard work and persistence has established himself as one of the most elite NRL players.
“He epitomises making the most of an opportunity,” he added.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about putting the best foot on the park and playing your best footy, but that’s not the be all end all, you obviously take into account performances throughout the season, so it’s a good opportunity to reinforce yourself on that day.
Lantry said his first hand experience playing with the Knights as a junior is a benefit from a planning perspective and provides insight into how the system works.
Lantry trialled for the Knights 16s and 18s between 1999 and 2001 to progress through the SG Ball, Harold Matthews and the then Jersey Flegg reserve grade.
“It’s a different role now to watch it,” he said.
“It could lead to potential contracts if you play well enough and are consistent enough, but the main thing is enjoying footy.”
The Club thanked the Macquarie Scorpions for hosting the trial on Saturday, for setting up the field sand running the canteen during the day.
"The facilities are fantastic out there and it’s been a great relationship with the Knights over a number of years, they are fantastic out there and do a really good job,” Lantry said.