As the Newcastle Knights near the end of pre-season training, coach Rick Stone answers supporters’ Insider questions.
Jon via email: Hi Rick. What do you believe is the key change that needs to be made for the team to perform better in 2015? Best of luck for the season ahead!
Rick Stone: I think first of all we need to make sure that we have a bit more energy and options in attack. Our stats in 2014 around our defense weren’t good. We need to improve in most of our areas as far as defending tries, number of people in the tackle and the ability to control the play the ball speed. I’d like to think you’d see a little bit of a change in the way we attack and hopefully a little but more of an defensive game in 2015.
@1988Knights via Twitter: What is the biggest thing you took out of coaching NSW Cup for the last few years?
RS: The NSW Cup job was a really good leveler in the last couple of years and gave me a chance to continue to hone my skills on weekends where you had to ask yourself some coaching questions and have to think in the heat of the battle and make some decisions around your bench and interchange and to prepare a team to meet its opposition. Matt Gidley and Paul Harragon sort of pushed me towards that one and I was really thankful and enjoyed my last couple of years with the NSW Cup.
Mitchell Llewellyn via email: How long do you think it will take you to win a premiership for the club?
RS: Good question Mitch, hopefully it’s only one year. Realistically, our first job is to get in the eight and give ourselves a chance to be in the semi-finals. I think most teams are probably considering top eight finishes as a minimum requirement and we are no different here. I’d like to think our roster here is a bit better that the last time I was head coach. I’m not going to put a number of years on how long it takes to win a premiership, but I’d really love it to be in my time I’m head coach at the Club.
@Official_RLO via Twitter: Do you see Korbin Sims as a prop or back-rower? Who from 2014 NSW Cup squad is likely to debut in first grade?
RS: I think Korbin will be an outright front rower, these days they play their lock forward in the middle as well. He might play a bit of 13 or front row. I think we are going to have to lean on Korbs a little bit this year and I really believe he’s ready to step up after coaching him in the Fiji team in the World Cup in 2013 when he played against Australia and England and held himself in really good regard.
Out of the NSW Cup team in 2014, maybe Nathan Ross might be a bit of a dark horse, he’s great at training and really dedicated to the cause and really focused. Sam Mataora would be another one I’d watch out for as well because he finished the season really well in NSW Cup.
@nicklove1505 via Twitter: Hi Rick, just wondering if you have decided on our front row rotation yet?
RS: There’s a number of contenders for front row. Kade Snowden would be one of the mainstays there. Korbin Sims will be a chance. Jack Stockwell has come to the Club and Dave Fa’alogo is an experienced player who has done a great job there. The young boys are coming out of NSW Cup like Pat Vaivai and Sam Mataora, who I think will be real chances of playing there. Chris Houston will probably play a little bit more in the middle with the inclusion of Tariq Sims who will possibly do a bit more in the back row when he gets back from suspension after Round 4.
Joshua Geering via email: Hi Rick! Where do you see Sione this year? Will he start off in NSW Cup or will you find a spot for him in the first team? Would be hard to not find a spot for him!
RS: Sione is obviously a real surprise packet for everyone. He’s development and speed has been amazing really. To go from a first grade debut and seven games at the end of the season to then play for Australia, it’s a fairly amazing rise really. Sione will play in our first grade team if he deserves to. Probably the trial will give us an idea of where he’s up to there. He’ll play in the Nines soon and I’m pretty excited to see how he plays in that concept. I think he’ll be good at it. I really believe he can play centre, wing and fullback which gives him the ability to play a number of positions for us and there’s no doubt he will play a number of games in 2015. He could even play every game, and if he’s going well enough, he will.
@DanHillyou56 via Twitter: Who are some bolters this pre-season who might be gunning for an unexpected spot in Round 1?
RS: We have a number of young players who have really impressed during this pre-season. Our under 20s captain Danny Levi could be someone to jump out of the box. He’s really impressed at training and is a player of huge potential. Only time will tell where he’s up to, but he’s going to get a chance to play in the Nines. Sam Mataora will be another one who is a fair chance as a front rower. Jack Stockwell mightn’t be such a bolter because he’s come to the Club after playing 30 games for St George already. There’s even Nathan Ross and of course Sione Mata’utia who played plenty of first grade at the back of last year.
@ironroland viaTwitter: How many minutes will Clydesdale be getting at hooker?
RS: Adam’s development is evolving nicely. He got to the stage where he played about 60 minutes in first grade. He’s not ready to play 80 minutes in the NRL just yet, but Adam is the first to say that’s correct. I’d like to think he’ll get to 60 minutes in 2015 and is going to need some help off the bench from a number of players whether that be Danny Levi, Chad Redman or Tyler Randell. All those boys will push for that bench spot. We have some possibilities around captain Kurt Gidley, so we will see what options we will take and what we think is our best rotation for the first game next year.
Josh Hill via email: We have five pretty established players in the backline, Sione is still a rookie by NRL standards and probably still has to prove himself against those guys, but will he be a Kangaroos player in the lower grades all year, or do you think he can force himself in?
RS: We all understand that and it’s probably the question I get asked the most. I think he can play a number of positions in centre, wing or fullback and generally most of the time in your games you don’t have all those players available. I still think his best position is centre and he’s been training as centre. He will definitely shadow Kurt in the fullback role in first grade as well. After the trials I’ll find out where he is up to. No doubt, if the established players are playing there and playing better than him, we might find a position somewhere. But at this point in time, he’s going to get every chance to play first grade and if he’s doing well enough, and deserves a gig, he definitely will force his way into the team.
@1988Knights via Twitter: Rick, You've been brutally honest when answering questions since regaining the job, which is brilliant. Why is this and will it continue through the season?
RS: I think the main thing with coaching this particular team is Newcastle and the region and that people feel like it’s part of them as well. I think you have to be honest and fairly forthright in most of the questions and be able to walk around town with your head up and have people respect you, whether it’s a decision you agree with or don’t agree with. I think it’s really important that you’re as honest as you can be with answers to questions and think that fans and Members in the community respect that and people in Newcastle expect that as well.
@KaneS1994 via Twitter: Hey Rick, How does it feel to be back as head coach, continuing where you left off?
RS: I’m really happy to be back as head coach. I’ve had a couple of years off but really think I’ve matured as a coach and learned plenty from Wayne Bennett. I think our roster here is a little bit healthier this year and we have a little bit more support and infrastructure than last time. I’m really excited about it and there’s a really good vibe at the moment. They are really hooking into their training with plenty of enthusiasm and intensity. I know it doesn’t count for too much, but I’m really comfortable with where the team’s sitting at the moment. We still have some improvements to make before the season starts, but I think we’ll be more than ready come Round 1.
@Aidoss93 via Twitter: Could Pat Mata'utia be used in the backrow? I think he would really excel there with his size & strength.
RS: Good question about Pat. Obviously I coached him in NSW Cup as a centre. His line breaking ability and physicality makes him an ideal candidate to play a bit of back row as well. I haven’t really explored that at this point in time, but as his career goes on, Pat might get an opportunity to do that. His footwork is good and his skill level is really high as well. I think there could be an evolution for Pat, but at this stage, I think he will still push for a position with the team as a centre and we are really working hard for him to be the best centre he can be at this point in time.
Josh Hill via email: Aku has had a tough couple of years by his high standards, how do you plan on getting him back to his best?
RS: Aku is a player I’ve had a bit to do with in the last couple of years including the Fiji gig in the 2013 World Cup. I think keeping Aku happy and getting him to enjoy his footy is really important. When he has a big smile on his face, that’s when he plays his best footy. I’ve asked him to drop a few kilos and he looks sharp and fit and ready for a big year. I think he’s smart enough to know there’s some expectation on him this year, so he knows that he has to perform. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t have a big year.
@Official_RLO via Twitter: Do you see Carlos Tuimavave as a long-term prospect or a quick fix until a youngster is ready?
RS: Carlos Tuimavave is a really talented player and a versatile player, even if he’s been training exclusively at five-eighth, he can handle a centre position or even a fullback position. He’s a really respectful young man and has a fair bit of learning and development to go in his football career. But as a 23-year-old, he has a great shape and great work ethic and is a player who really impressed all the coaches and players since his start with the Knights in November. I really believe he’s going to play some first grade this year and hopefully it is a long-term future at the Knights for Carlos.
@JessLittlej91 via Twitter: Who has impressed you most during pre season?
RS: We’ve had some really good performers in the pre-season. Generally we have some blokes that perform well year in year out and Jarrod Mullen is one of those. Tariq Sims has been impressive since he’s come to the Club. Nathan Ross has been impressive since coming out of the NSW Cup and has given himself every chance. We have a few good young players from the NYC team like James Taylor and Lukes Yates who is still eligible to play NYC. He’s had a really big pre-season and I look forward to seeing him impress in the NYC and push to play higher grades throughout the year.
@rangdiddy via Twitter: Are the Knights set to play a fast flashy entertaining type of football like the old days under you?
RS: I think one thing in the modern game is that you have to ask some questions in attack and that’s really important. There’s a fine balance between risk and reward as far as errors are concerned. One thing we do want to play is an entertaining brand of football that is not only enjoyable to watch but is enjoyable to play and that every time we go to Hunter Stadium, that people come away have really enjoyed the style of footy they play and the entertainment we provide, because we are in the entertainment industry. We want our Members and our fans to walk away like they’ve had a really good day every time they see the Knights at Hunter Stadium.
Thank you for all of your great questions - stay tuned for details about the next edition of Knights Insider.