Despite a number of important positional decisions still to be made, coach Rick Stone assures the Newcastle Knights are ready for kick off in just under two week’s time.
“We need to hit the ground running,” Stone told the media on Tuesday after the team’s training session held at Hunter TAFE.
“We can’t be feeling our way into the season with the draw we’ve got.
“We have to be ready to go into the first game and ready from the opening whistle.
“We still have a couple of weeks to go and it’s fair to say we’ve got a bit of fine tuning to do, but our structure is there and confidence out of the weekend is good.”
The weekend’s win over the Canberra Raiders in the team’s final trial match held at Queanbeyan has provided a positive lead into the season as well as an opportunity for Stone to consider the Knights’ positional options.
“We are getting closer and are pretty comfortable where we are at, but have a few more decisions to make,” he said.
“Everyone got some good time and some confidence out of it and no injuries, so that’s pretty good.
With Stone still deciding over his final personnel for the starting 17, the next two weeks of training will prove vital for players pushing for spots.
“We might take as many as 19 into the last week and make a few decisions as we get a bit closer,” he said.
“There’s probably a couple of bench spots and we obviously have to sort the centres out.
“We have Joey Leilua and (Dane) Gagai and young Sione (Mata’utia) as well, so there’s something we have to decide on as well.
“It’s not easy, and whether we can get them all in the same side, I suppose we’ll discuss that.
“At this stage I think that Aku (Uate) and James (McManus) are likely to start on the wing.
“Aku has got back into a little bit of form and James has been one of our form wingers for a couple of years now and he’s had a really good pre-season.”
Stone is pleased with the arrangement of well established halves Jarrod Mullen and Tyrone Roberts who’s combination has continued to thrive throughout pre-season training.
“Mullen is pretty comfortable where he’s at and is focused,” he said.
“The quality of his touches and last weekend is pretty good.”
Meanwhile, Stone’s certain Roberts’ experience in the Indigenous All Stars match, alongside teammate Gagai, has boosted the 23-year-old halfback’s confidence and ability.
“I think they both got a lot out of it working with blokes like Greg Inglis and Jonathon Thurston, some of the elite players in the game, they definitely took some experiences away from there,” he added.
“Hopefully they can build on what they saw and come back to hopefully play club football with a bit more confidence and show they are classy players as well.”
Whether Korbin Sims will be named as starting prop alongside Kade Snowden is another question Stone is set to confirm before the Knights’ first hit out.
“Korbin did a decent job last week. Whether we go that way in the first round is still another decision we have to make. We haven’t really locked anything there," Stone said.
“He’s showed nice maturity since the off-season and think his brother Tariq has helped a little bit in that regard."
As far as the team’s goal kicker, captain Kurt Gidley will remain number one choice with Tyrone Roberts asserting himself as the next in line.
"Kurt will start as our first choice goal kicker, unless he tells me otherwise and we’ll go from there,” he added.
“Tyrone stuck the ball really well when he got his chance on the weekend.
“He continues to practice and is a great natural talent, and for the Club will probably be our goal kicker for the next five years."
Gidley is well settled as the Knights’ fullback, a position Stone believes best suits the veteran utility.
“That’s where he’s been training in the off season, it’s been our focus and it’s his first port of call,” he said.
“If we had our strongest side, that’s where I’d suggest he’d be playing.
“Not saying he won’t play somewhere else because, he’s such a terrific, versatile player.”