After a five-week whirlwind Four Nations tournament, Newcastle Knights utility back Sione Mata’utia is finally coming to terms with the magnitude of becoming the youngest player to don the Kangaroos jersey.
Mata'utia watched game one from the stands and admits he never expected to take the field during the series after being named in the Australian squad in mid October as one of the team’s 10 debutants.
“I came to the camp thinking I’m here for experience and to see what it’s like in camp,” 18-year-old Mata’utia said.
“To my shock, I got a call up second week in and I’m truly grateful.
“Not many players could say they’ve done this at my age.
“I take this as humbling and I was truly honoured to play and to especially put on the Australian Kangaroo jersey this early in my career.
“I realise now, to be given that accomplishment and that award, is something you can’t really explain, especially being alongside players like Israel Falau and Brad Fittler…it’s something I can tell my grandchildren as I get older.”
The 18-year-old faced a fierce English side when he made his international debut at AAMI Park in the second game of the tournament.
The win then saw the talented winger play against Toa Samoa in game three, evoking mixed emotions due to his Samoan heritage.
The green and gold earned their spot in the Four Nations final against New Zealand, yet despite Mata'utia spectacularly grounding the ball in the corner in the final minute of the game, a forward pass ruling shut down the side’s chance to raise the trophy.
“I actually knew that I got it down, I just didn’t know it was a forward pass," Mata'utia recalled.
“It was a bit blurry looking up to the pass but I thought if I get this down I give myself every chance to get a try.”
Mata'utia described the moment as “pretty devastating” and say’s he’s watched the footage once, but won’t watch it again.
“That’s footy and that’s how it goes, whatever the ref says goes and you can’t really change his mind,” he added.
The disappointing call was not the only worry he had in the high-stakes game.
Sione suffered broken ribs midway through the second half, and drew on all of his strength to remain on the field.
“I was fighting some demons there; the big 'Beast' (Manu Vatuvei) ran over me like a steam train and I copped a blow to my ribs,” he said.
“I got told that I broke them and I wanted to come off straight away, but I played on and the senior players sort of told me that ‘you have to play on, we need you’.
“I couldn’t let them down by leaving the field, so I played on and I did my best.
“At the moment they aren’t too bad, I got some x-rays the last couple of days."
Despite its dramatic nature, Mata'utia relished the opportunity to play finals football on the world stage.
“There was a lot of pressure there for our team to make the finals and there were people that were doubting us,” he said.
“It was pressure that we could handle, I guess it made the achievement of making the finals that little bit sweeter because people doubted us, but by the end of it we were favourites to win.
“It says a lot about our character and how we come back and denied a lot of people.
“To lose was another thing. We were pretty confident that we could do the job.
“I guess one team had to lose and it was us.
“It was a good effort from the New Zealand team, they played really well.”
For now, Mata'utia looks forward to a well-earned holiday with his girlfriend and family and before re-joining the Knights for pre-season training.
“I can’t wait to get back in, because I miss training with the boys," he said with a grin.