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For coach Rick Stone, this week marks the official beginning of a return to the helm of the Newcastle Knights.

His squad gathered on Monday morning, for the first stage of fitness evaluations and from early assessments, he’s impressed with the condition of players returning from the break.

“They looked pretty good, obviously the fitness component is always an important part of the pre-season,” he told the media at a press conference.

“The boys have got to get back into the groove.

“Most have come back in reasonable shape, and a few have a bit of work to do, but that’s usually the path of the course.”

It was a reduced squad that returned, with players returning over the next few weeks as they return from Four Nations representation and the like.

“It’s a skeleton squad at the moment but will build over the next couple of weeks,” he added.

 The launch of pre-season has also brought with it the finalisation of the Knights 2015 signings.

The NRL squad has recently been boosted with new recruits Tariq Sims, Jack Stockwell and Carlos Tuimavave and the re-signing of Pat Vaivai, Sam Mataora, David Fa’alogo and Chris Houston

“With Darius’ (Boyd) release and Jack Stockwell’s introduction to the Club, Houso (Houston) and Dave Falao’go, things are coming together right on time,” he said.

Stone also has welcomed back head physiotherapist Anthony Ingraham, who previously held a position at the Knights.

“Everything is in place now which is good because it took a little bit of time to have the planets align, but when they did, it’s worked out alright for us,” Stone said.

One of the Knights new faces, Tariq Sims has credited Stone’s appointment to head coach as the deciding factor in his relocation from the North Queensland Cowboys to Newcastle. 

“I had a great association with Taz obviously in Fiji, he’s a great fella,” Stone said.

“I think he’ll be a good fit for Newcastle.

“Having some confidence like that from a senior player is always nice.

“The proof is in the pudding as far as he plays and the way I coach.

“I think we get on pretty well together and I think the people of Newcastle will enjoy watching Tariq and will probably support him pretty quickly both on and off the field.”

When questioned about selection headaches due to the squad’s depth and the position of standout young players like Sione Mata’utia, Stone acknowledged there would be a number of players including the 18-year-old Kangaroo rep who will be pushing for a starting place.

“We all knew Sione was going to be a good player, we just didn’t quiet know how quickly he was going to get recognised like that,” he said.

“No doubt there will be some selection headaches and he’ll be a part of that.”

As the squad gradually builds to full personnel, Stone will be looking laying strong foundations for the 2015 season. 

"We are building a bit of a culture and getting some things done within the team and setting some boundaries around standards,” he said.

Stone intends to engage his players by dishing up variety in the pre-season schedule with a greater emphasis on football skills combined with conditioning.

“It’s an exciting time pre-season, there’s some hard work to be done, and there’s no getting away from that."