Newcastle Knights coach Rick Stone expects players selected in Saturday’s trial match at Wauchope to be ready to impress in what will be for many the first hit out of 2015.
Stone describes the line-up as a blend of young players, the back end of the squad and seasoned seniors that includes the likes of forward Kade Snowden and star centre Joey Leilua.
“I know we are only playing a local team, but we are really excited to take the team up that neck of the woods,” Stone told the media at a press conference on Tuesday.
“It’s a great chance for players to impress.
“A number of the players in the squad have already spent time on the paddock…some have played in the Nines, but alot of the boys haven’t played too much yet.
“I’m trying to manage with the Nines, the All Stars and the trial for them to get a bit of time without risking injury too much.”
A main objective of the trial for the squad’s front rowers is to accrue game time before Round 1, now less than a month away.
One of the biggest names to take the field, Kade Snowden, is especially eager for his first contest after a delayed start to the pre-season.
“I think game time for a front rower is really important and Snowy (Snowden) is one of those blokes that hasn’t had a chance to play yet,” Stone said.
“He had a bit of a monitored program with his knee, but he’s training really well and playing really strong.”
Then there’s Sam Mataora and Pat Vaivai who are both competing for a spot up front in the Knights’ starting 17 after a successful 2014 season in NSW Cup.
“They were really good for us in the NSW Cup in the back end of the year and both Sam and Pat will push for a first 17 spot in Round 1,” Stone said.
“I suppose this is the first step for those boys.
“Pat played a bit in the Nines and it’s a chance for Sam to put some runs on the board and possibly get himself in the team to go to Canberra the following week.
In a pre-season which has presented it’s usual physical and mental challenges, Stone says the work invested by the squad’s emerging front rowers has been extremely pleasing.
“It is a bit tougher on the body for the bigger blokes in the summer months with the Ks they’ve got to travel,” he said.
“They’ve worked hard on their extras and to get themselves in shape, and get themselves in good enough nick to sort of compete with the rest of the blokes who have played regular first grade last year.”
Following the Knights' match against the Port Sharks and Wauchope Blues, the Knights will hold a free community event in Port Macquarie on Sunday.
“We’re looking forward to mingling up there and will do a bit of a coaching clinic on the Sunday,” Stone said.
“We’ve been to Port the last couple of years but we haven’t been to Wauchope in a long time.
“I’m sure the people up there are looking forward to seeing the Knights come to town.”
Click here for more information about the Knights' visit to Wauchope.